Health workers’ confidence in the government’s plan to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to those who need it will only improve when they see enough supply on the frontline of their fight against the coronavirus, health bodies have said.
Last week, the government revealed a three-strand PPE plan that focused on guidance, delivery and future supply. It said it was delivering PPE to 58,000 health providers including care homes, GP surgeries, hospices and community care organisations.
The first strand – guidance – is “about being clear who needs PPE, what type and in what circumstances”. It said: “There is enough PPE to go around, but it’s a precious resource and must be used only where there is a clinical need to do so.”
Health professionals working within two metres of a confirmed or suspected Covid-19 patient should wear an apron, gloves, a surgical mask and eye protection, while those carrying out tasks that could generate airborne droplets are required to use an even higher standard of protection, such such as disposable gowns, filtering respirators and face-shielding visors.
The second strand – distribution – involves a large-scale logistical effort from the NHS, suppliers and the armed forces, the government said. Local “resilience forums” have been created to distribute PPE where it is needed and there are plans to scale up a national distribution plan in the coming weeks.
Thirdly, the government said it expects to bolster its PPE supply with orders from abroad and by making more in the UK. Many organisations not normally involved in the manufacture of PPE had already dedicated their production lines to making more protective equipment, it highlighted.
Dr Layla McCay, director of the NHS Confederation, said ensuring that PPE gets to the right places was key to the success of any distribution plan and warned that staff would only feel confident once they could see this was happening.
She said: “NHS staff are fighting a battle against Covid-19 and need the best protection. Our members have been telling us that, in particular, mental health teams and community staff such as pharmacists, family doctors and those in social care are not always receiving the equipment they need – we hope they will be reassured by this new plan.
“Staff in specialist and community health settings in particular will be working with often vulnerable individuals with risky behaviours, increasing their need for PPE. Mental health patients are also more likely to have underlying physical health issues, putting them in the high-risk category for Covid-19.”
McCay also welcomed the news that the Health and Safety Executive has approved the use of disposable coveralls as an alternative to non-surgical disposable gowns, in response to reported shortages in some NHS trusts.
However, the British Medical Association warned that shortages of PPE in London and Yorkshire in particular were putting staff and patients at risk of contracting the potentially deadly virus.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “No doctor should ever have to be in harm’s way when they go to work, and in these unprecedented times, this has never been more important. It is absurd that the people trained to treat this disease are the ones who are not being appropriately protected – and without them, we face real disaster.
“It’s unclear whether the lack of PPE is directly linked to the recorded deaths of doctors so far, but we know that no healthcare workers have been infected in a hospital in Italy precisely because their PPE supplies are sufficient and of high-quality.”