The warning comes in a strongly worded statement by BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul which demands action and answers from ministers about why supplies are failing to reach the front line.
‘This Government expects NHS staff to put themselves at risk of serious illness, or even death, by treating highly infectious COVID-19 patients without wearing proper protection,’ he said. ‘This is totally unacceptable. We are told that lorries are shipping hundreds of boxes of supplies of PPE to GPs and to hospitals but that isn’t the reality for thousands of our members.’
NHS staff are expected to use PPE which falls short of standards recommended by the WHO (World Health Organisation). GPs and hospital doctors are being forced to buy their own from high-street retailers, those fighting the virus on the front line have told us.
‘Coughed on by COVID patients all day today,’ one consultant told the BMA through its online reporting portal.
‘No visors available. ‘Tomorrow I’m borrowing my nine-year old’s safety specs she got in a science party bag. I wish this was actually a joke.’
Another said: ‘We are being asked to risk our lives and our loved ones' lives, in flimsy paper masks and plastic aprons. I don't know if I can do it. I just don't know if I can. I don't think it is fair to expect this of us. I am terrified. How can this risk to practitioners, other patients, practitioners' families be justified? My husband is not a medic and I cry every day thinking I am going to infect him.’
Concern about poor supplies of PPE and its risk to the lives of themselves, their colleagues and families is a common theme in more than 100 postings by doctors the portal.
Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) raised concerns about access to PPE. One in five expressed concerns for the health of NHS staff and their families.
The BMA has issued guidance for doctors who are concerned their PPE is inadequate. It suggests raising concerns urgently with managers.
‘You are not under a binding obligation to provide high-risk services where your employer does not provide appropriate safety and protection,’ it adds.
Dr Nagpaul said there were ‘limits to the risks that doctors should expose themselves to and to go beyond those is not fair on themselves, their families or their patients.’
He called on the Government to be ‘transparent’ about supply levels and to set out how it expects to provide healthcare staff with the right level of protection. ‘We know hundreds, if not thousands of doctors and frontline staff are risking their health and lives every hour of every day caring for COVID-19 patients,’ he added.
‘They should not have to do so without the right protection.’