A significant number of doctors are still without the equipment they need to protect themselves against Covid-19 despite continued promises from the Government that supply issues are being addressed, according to a major survey by the British Medical Association.
More than 6,000 doctors from across the UK responded to the snapshot survey, which found that some doctors working in the most high-risk areas do not have the right personal protective equipment (PPE), with adequate supply of gowns and eye protection highlighted as particular problems.
This comes as the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock failed to guarantee that hospitals would not run out of gowns this weekend.
Key findings include:
- around half1 of doctors working in high risk areas said there were shortages or no supply at all of long-sleeved disposable gowns and disposable goggles, while 56% said the same for full-face visors
- in other hospital settings, around half of doctors said that there were shortages or no supply at all of scrubs and eye protection2
- in both settings, just under a third of doctors said they were sometimes pressured to work without adequate protection3
- in general practice, more than a third of GPs said they had no eye protection, with a further third saying there were shortages4
- more than two-thirds of GPs said they were not receiving regular and sufficient supplies of eye protection5
- almost one in five doctors continue to say they do not feel safely protected at work6.
The findings show some improvements compared with the BMA’s previous survey released earlier this month, but the BMA says it is not right that some hospitals and practices have adequate supplies while others go without.
Meanwhile, the BMA can reveal that it has been contacted by more than 70 private companies, who say they are ready and willing to provide equipment to the NHS but are struggling to gain any traction through official government and NHS channels.
The BMA has passed the details of these companies on to the Department of Health and Social Care7.
Respondents to the survey also continued to describe sourcing their own PPE from local schools, voluntary groups, or buying it from DIY stores. One practice said they had spent £12,000 on protective equipment.
Others described hospitals washing and reusing gowns and visors.
One doctor said that current levels of PPE left them feeling as thought they were being 'thrown to the wolves', while another said they should not be forced to choose between doing their job or keeping themselves and their family safe.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:
'Two months into the Covid-19 crisis in Britain, we shouldn’t still be hearing that doctors feel unprotected when they go to work.
'The Government says that one billion items will soon have been shipped, and while there have been signs of improvement, our research clearly shows that equipment is not reaching all doctors working on the front line.
'We heard this week that a hospital boss resorted to asking the BBC for contacts at a clothing brand in a bid to get hold of gowns, and just yesterday the Health and Social Care Secretary said he could not guarantee that hospitals would not run out this weekend.
'Meanwhile, the BMA has been inundated with approaches from companies offering to do their bit to supply the NHS.
'This is a truly sorry state of affairs, and we renew our call for the Government to work with manufacturers to ramp up domestic supply.
'The Health and Social Care Secretary admitted yesterday that there had been ‘complications’ and that he takes full responsibility. We appeal to him directly to get this problem sorted so that doctors, and their colleagues across the health and social care sector, can treat patients in the face of this deadly virus without putting their own health and lives at risk.
'Too many doctors and healthcare staff have already lost their lives. We cannot afford to risk losing any more.'
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.
- When asked whether they currently had adequate supplies or shortages of the following PPE when working in an AGP (aerosol-generated procedure) area, 50% said there were shortages or no supply at all for both disposable long-sleeved gowns and disposable goggles [early April survey result: 43% and 65% respectively].
- In non-AGP settings, 52% said there were shortages or no supply at all of both scrubs and eye protection [59%/65%].
- When asked whether doctors working AGP areas had ever felt pressured to see a patient without adequate protection, 30% [34%] said they had sometimes, while those in non-AGP 32% [32%] said they sometimes had.
- When GPs were asked whether they currently had adequate NHS supplies or shortages of the following PPE, 32% [24%] said there were shortages of eye protection, while 33% [64%] said they had no supply at all.
- When asked whether they were currently receiving regular and sufficient NHS deliveries of the following items of PPE, 63% [79%] of GPs said they were not for eye protection.
- When asked whether they felt safely protected from coronavirus infection in their place of work, 18% [36%] said they did not at all.
- The BMA has not endorsed any of the companies but has passed their details on to the DHSC.
8. 6,126 completed the BMA survey between 14 and 16 April 2020. For more results see PDF.
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