Coronavirus: PPE shortages worsening, doctors warn, as Raab raises fresh doubts over supplies
Third of physicians in high-risk settings lack long-sleeved gowns or full-face visors – a situation that has ‘worsened over the past three weeks’
A third of physicians working in high-risk settings have reported running short of long-sleeved gowns or full-face visors – a situation that has “worsened over the past three weeks”, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said.
Of those working in other hospital areas, 40 per cent are not always equipped with eye protection, while 15.5 per cent are sometimes left without fluid-repellent face masks.
They are faced with the “awful” choice “between protecting our own lives or protecting those of the patients we treat”, one physician said.
The grim survey results were disclosed as Mr Raab admitted the government has fallen short on protecting frontline NHS and care staff, more than a month after Boris Johnson insisted PPE would be provided.
Asked when there would be “enough”, the stand-in prime minister said: “It’s very difficult to say that with precision and the kind of reliability that you want as a guarantee.”
And asked to acknowledge that some medical and care staff had been let down, Mr Raab replied: “I think we’re not in the place on PPE that we’d want to be.”
The concession came as:
- Mr Raab warned the public must accept “the new normal” of tough restrictions, saying: “Social distancing measures are going to be with us for some time”.
- Mr Johnson prepared to return to his Downing Street desk on Monday, three weeks after receiving oxygen while in intensive care in hospital.
- A government minister suggested furloughed workers should help pick crops when the harvest comes, to stop them rotting in the fields.
- The expert behind the smartphone app that ministers hope will track and trace potential coronavirus victims warned it required a 60 per cent take-up to be successful.
- The number of hospital deaths from coronavirus rose by 413 to more than 20,700 – as an NHS chief argued a gradual decline showed the lockdown was working.
As far back as 18 March, Mr Johnson told MPs there were “stockpiles of PPE”, insisting: “There is a massive effort going on.”
But the survey by the RCP has highlighted the continuing plight of its members working in “aerosol generating procedure” areas.
These are settings – including where patients are on ventilators, or there is manual ventilation, or open airway suctioning – where there is the highest risk of transmission of disease.
In a third of cases, the RCP uncovered shortages of long-sleeved disposable gowns (31 per cent) and full-face visors (37 per cent).
Some 26.5 per cent of physicians surveyed reported being unable to access the kit they need for managing Covid-19 patients – compared with 22 per cent in a similar survey earlier this month.
And the RCP found that almost a quarter of respondents (23 per cent) do not know how to raise concerns about PPE in their organisation.
However, staff absences have dropped from 18 per cent to 8 per cent in the past three weeks, according to the survey.
Furthermore, 91 per cent of those with symptoms of the virus said they are now able to obtain coronavirus tests – up from 31 per cent three weeks ago.
Andrew Goddard, the RCP’s president, said: “We’re living through the darkest times the NHS has ever faced and this survey shows the reality of the situation facing hospital doctors at the moment.
“The lack of PPE remains their biggest concern and it is truly terrible that supply has worsened over the past three weeks rather than improved.”
Dr Matthew Roycroft, joint chair of the trainees committee at the RCP, said: “Not only are many trainees working outside of our speciality areas, but we are also doing so without fully trusting that the government will support us when it comes to treating those with Covid-19.
“Without the right PPE, my colleagues and I may find ourselves with the most awful of conundrums on our hands – having to choose between protecting our own lives or protecting those of the patients we treat.
“This isn’t what any of us signed up for, and certainly isn’t a decision any doctor should have to make.”
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said trusts were “working hard” to address shortages, such as sharing stock where possible and looking at safe ways of reusing some kit.