With the NHS under severe pressure from the latest wave of Covid-19, nurses, GPs and unions have raised concerns about the ongoing availability of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.
The Royal College of Nursing this week called for better protection for nurses because of the increased transmissibility of the new variant of Covid-19.
It said in a statement: “The RCN is seeking an urgent response from the government after raising concerns about the need for increased levels of personal protective equipment (PPE) for those treating people with suspected or confirmed Covid-19.
“We want higher level PPE for nursing staff as a precautionary measure in all heathcare settings pending clarity on transmission of the new strain of the virus, which has been reported to be up to 70% more infectious.
“We also want there to be more investigation and tailored guidance on effective ventilation within healthcare environments as we know from the workplace safety regulator’s own advice, good ventilation reduces the concentration of the virus in the air and therefore the risk of airborne transmission. As a matter of urgency, we’re pressing the government to review the effectiveness of ventilation in hospitals and other buildings where health care is delivered,” the RCN added.
The union Unite too said it was now receiving “concerning” reports of an absence of correct PPE for some NHS staff.
Unite national officer for the health sector Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “The mounting pressures are taking a heavy toll on an already exhausted workforce. To add to this appalling sense of siege, we are again receiving distressing reports about a lack of suitable PPE for staff treating highly infectious, sick patients and rising numbers of staff self-isolating or contracting Covid-19.
“Unite is calling on NHS staff to speak up about this; let us know what PPE is needed and we will do all in our power to get the employers to get this to you with urgency.”
And it has emerged that during the first wave of the pandemic last spring GPs often went weeks without any PPE supplies from the Department of Health, with practices often ending up having to source and purchase their own.
The revelation was made by BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul to a Parliamentary committee in December.
He told the Parliamentary public accounts committee: “What we were told in February and early March from the government was that there were adequate plans and adequate stockpiles, the message to us was ‘don’t worry, we have enough.
“As the weeks went by in March, we were getting reports increasingly from doctors that they didn’t have access to the PPE they needed. What was even worse for those of us in general practice was that we tried to buy our own and when we looked at all our normal suppliers they had run out because much of those supplies had been directed to the NHS and weren’t available,” Dr Nagpaul added.
A Covid-19 tracker survey conducted by the BMA in late March and early April found just 2% GPs reported they felt they were properly protected, he said.
The committee is investigating the procurement and provision of PPE during the pandemic.