BMA survey finds doctors’ lives still at risk despite Government pledges on PPE

by BMA media team Press release from the BMA.
Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 7 April 2020
Contract and pen article illustration

Despite repeated assurances by the Government for over a week that millions of units of protective equipment have been delivered to the front line, a BMA snapshot survey with almost 2,000 responses1, revealed that large numbers of doctors are still expected to care for COVID-19 patients with little or no PPE (personal protective equipment).

This comes amid increasing numbers of deaths among healthcare workers in the UK and in Italy where doctors’ representatives are linking over 100 deaths to lack of PPE.

According to the survey, more than half of doctors working in high-risk environments2 said there were either shortages or no supply at all of adequate face masks, while 65% said they did not have access to eye protection. Alarmingly, 55% said they felt pressurised to work in a high-risk area despite not having adequate PPE.

Almost 90% of GPs in contact with Covid patients reported either shortages or no access at all to eye protection, and 62% reported problems with supply of face masks. More than half of GPs who responded said they had had to buy their own face masks or eye protection, with only 2% saying they felt fully protected against the virus at work.

The survey was launched following the Government’s updating of PPE guidelines for doctors and mounting anecdotal evidence that frontline workers simply don’t have access to enough masks, gloves and gowns. This survey shows that doctors are not being provided with the appropriate protective equipment as specified by the government’s own guidelines.

One hospital doctor said: “The quality of our eye protection and apron is useless. Some of the PPE provided feels like a tick-box exercise just for psychological reassurance.”

Another doctor said: “I am the only muslim anaesthetist with a beard in my department. I am being forced to shave my beard due to unavailability of hood masks with respirator, and a bearded doctor can’t pass a fit mask test.”

While one GP told the BMA: “I feel betrayed by the government who are not transparent enough to say that they do not have the ideal supplies and are therefore asking us to put ourselves in harms’ way with sub-optimal protection.”

The survey also revealed that despite the government stating that it was ramping up testing for healthcare workers, only 195 respondents said they had ready access to tests. Furthermore, 40% of both hospital doctors and GPs said colleagues having to self-isolate because of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 was currently having a significant impact on capacity to treat patients.

The survey also found:

  • just 12% of hospital doctors said they felt fully protected from the virus at work
  • nearly 30% of hospital doctors said their trust did not offer any COVID-19 testing for staff with self-isolating symptoms
  • 36% of hospital doctors said capacity had significantly reduced because of colleagues having to self-isolate
  • 27% of hospital doctors reported running low on basic anti-infection supplies such as soap.

Dr Nagpaul said: “In less than three days, nearly 2,000 doctors across the UK have told us how desperate their situation really is. Despite assurances from the Government that personal protective equipment is making its way to the front line, this snapshot survey reveals a very different picture - healthcare workers in the UK simply do not have enough protective equipment to keep them safe.

"We are weeks into the most serious health crisis this country has faced in modern times and doctors are telling us they don’t have any or don’t have enough protective equipment. Until now, we have been hearing anecdotal stories about shortages or a lack of PPE, this survey confirms the extent of this failure.

“Doctors report being put into situations which clearly contravene the PHE guidance issued last week. They’ve told us they are pressurised to see a patient without adequate protection, or to perform a high-risk procedure where they are at risk of becoming infected, or where they may go on to infect another patient – and all because they don’t have the right PPE. They are putting themselves and the lives of their patients at risk.

“A majority of doctors reported that they had not had either the advice or the training needed to properly fit, put on and take off PPE; without this training they increase their risk of exposure to virus and of spreading it.

“For weeks now the Government has assured us that equipment is being rolled out, that the supply issues will be fixed. It has also repeatedly told healthcare workers they will have priority access to testing. This survey shows this is not the reality and doctors have told us they have little confidence in the Government to support and protect them. Doctors, indeed all healthcare workers, feel badly let down. 

“Increasing numbers of healthcare workers are dying from COVID-19 in the UK, including four doctors, and it is frankly disgraceful that frontline staff are still expected to work unprotected. We must protect doctors so they can protect patients.

“The Government must get a grip on this situation now and give us cast iron assurances that each and every single doctor can be guaranteed access to PPE and be properly protected against COVID-19.”

ENDS

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.

1. BMA members in the UK were asked to give feedback on their current PPE supplies between Friday, 3 April and Monday, 6 April.

2. High-risk environments include delivering or assisting with an aerosol generating procedure (AGP) including in intensive care units or the ‘hot zone’ of an emergency department. These areas require healthcare staff to wear a higher level of PPE including long-sleeved gowns, FFP3 respirators, eye protection, and gloves.

3. On Friday the BMA joined other health and manufacturing unions in calling on the Government to unleash a national effort to produce the protective equipment that millions of key workers still desperately need to keep safe during the health crisis.

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