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NHS front line staff ‘unprotected’

Poor or missing virus gear leaves staff feeling like ‘cannon fodder’

KEY healthcare workers said they were being sent “like lambs to the slaughter” yesterday and made further pleas for proper protective equipment for NHS staff. 

The government has been told to urgently adopt measures to “protect the lives of life-savers” during the coronavirus pandemic, after frequent reports circulated of workers being left without personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Health select committee chairman Jeremy Hunt told Sky News yesterday that the NHS has “moved heaven and earth” to get protective equipment to every hospital.

But the Doctors’ Association chairman Dr Rinesh Parmar said front-line NHS staff dealing with the coronavirus outbreak are still not getting the protective equipment they need.

He said doctors and nurses feel they are being treated as “cannon fodder” and appealed to the Prime Minister to ensure they are properly protected.

“We have had doctors tell us they feel like lambs to the slaughter, that they feel like cannon fodder,” Mr Parmar said. “GPs tell us that they feel absolutely abandoned.

“What our doctors are telling us is that although equipment is arriving, some of it is inadequate, some of it doesn’t meet the World Health Organisation guidance.

“That really doesn't fill front-line healthcare staff with the confidence that they need.”

Almost 4,000 NHS staff also appealed directly to Mr Johnson, pleading for adequate protective equipment to deal with the pandemic. 

In an open letter published in the Sunday Times, the medics called on the Prime Minister to “protect the lives of the life-savers” and resolve the “unacceptable” shortage of protective equipment.

The group said many medical workers are “putting their lives on the line every day” by treating coronavirus patients without appropriate protection.

They called on Mr Johnson to ensure an adequate supply of masks, safety glasses, gloves, aprons and protective suits.

The letter, signed by 3,963 NHS staff, reads: “Front-line doctors have been telling us for weeks that they do not feel safe at work.”

If urgent action is not taken, the doctors said, the public will be put at further risk and medical staff could lose their lives.

Healthcare leaders have now promised the quantity of PPE for front-line staff will “get better over the next few days.” 

Jason Leitch, the national clinical director of healthcare quality and strategy, insisted there was sufficient supply of items, amid concerns that not all medical and care workers has been provided for.

But he said the distribution of such items had been “challenging,” as the NHS tries to get protective equipment out to more people than normal.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said that the coronavirus pandemic had come “on us really fast.”

Mr Leitch said: “I know there is enough supply, the distribution has been challenging, because we’re adding in new places, we’re adding in care homes, we’re adding in community pharmacies.

“We’ve not had to do regular PPE transmission to those places before, so that is causing some individual challenges around the four UK countries.”

However, consultant anaesthetist Dr Tom Dolphin has warned medics are “deeply apprehensive” about a surge in Covid-19 cases and whether intensive care units will cope.

Dr Dolphin, who is also a spokesman for the British Medical Association, said there was not enough PPE for staff, despite assurances that it is on its way, and called for NHS staff to get tested for coronavirus.

He said Britain had “advanced warning in the sense of what’s happened in Italy and China” and had been putting as many plans in place as possible.

Dr Dolphin added that the NHS was “not starting from a great base” in terms of its bed numbers and after the funding shortfalls of recent years.

“People are catching coronavirus from their patients, we already know they are – staff are going down with it around the country,” he said.

“The government needs to get on top of that and sort out PPE.”

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