Doctors demand effective protection from coronavirus

by Keith Cooper

Doctors have demanded urgent reassurance from the Government that they will receive adequate PPE (personal protective equipment) after reports some were sourcing theirs from garages or builders’ merchants.

Location: UK
Last reviewed: 18 March 2020

The BMA wants a guarantee that all frontline staff will have the correct protection, fitted and tested in timely fashion. This follows concerns raised to the BMA from doctors in the past few days.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA Chair of Council said that without such protection it presented considerable risks to the profession. He said: "There are limits to the risks to which doctors, indeed all healthcare workers, can reasonably be expected to expose themselves to."

"Frontline staff must have the proper personal protective equipment if they are treating patients with COVID-19 or suspected to have COVID-19. We are hearing of staff trying to buy masks from DIY stores, or going to building sites, in desperation because they are not being provided with it by their employers. This is totally unacceptable; healthcare workers should not, and do not, have to expose themselves to high risk situations without having adequate PPE."

"The Government must find a reliable way to substantially increase the production and distribution of PPE. If any healthcare worker, treating someone with Covid-19 was to become ill, or worse, due to a lack of PPE, the consequences will be dire and the impact on patient care catastrophic.”

One doctor told the BMA that, given the number of doctors who had contracted COVID-19 in Italy and China, many in the UK would face an enhanced risk of becoming ill and passing the virus on to patients, other staff and family members.

In the circumstances, ‘I am really [worried] that doctors will quit if they’re put in this position’, the doctor said.

'Unacceptable'

A GP partner also using the BMA’s online portal said: ‘We are on the front line and very much at huge personal risk. Where is the support? NHS 111 is still sending potential cases to us. This is unacceptable.’

Another GP told the BMA he had been forced to source his own PPE after recently receiving a box of ‘standard surgical masks, plastic aprons and gloves’ after weeks of pleading.

‘We know that we should have respirator masks,’ he added. ‘I had bought some from eBay and used these to supply our reception front-office staff as their desk is completely open,’ he added. ‘We have bought more from local car part and builders’ merchants to their amazement. I am planning to use my loft-insulation respirator if needed. I have seen two high-risk cases so far using this kit.’

Legal duty

The BMA has already issued repeated calls for supplies of adequate PPE as one of the range of measures needed to safeguard and help doctors and medical students battle against the virus.

‘Doctors must have the confidence to help plan and treat patients,’ BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul has said.

‘They need adequate protection from the risks of workplace infections as well-resourced as possible to care for patients. At present, such confidence is lacking.'

BMA guidance, contained in online Q&As about COVID-19, says: ‘Employers have both a legal and ethical responsibility to protect their staff and must ensure that appropriate and adequate protective equipment is available and that staff are trained in their use.

‘If members are concerned that they are being asked to see patients who are infected, or who are suspected to be infected, without adequate safeguards being in place, this should be raised immediately with management or with the BMA.’