BMA demands urgent PPE solution after 50 Italian doctors die from COVID-19

The government must act urgently to protect NHS staff amid a wave of COVID-19 deaths and infections among health professionals in Italy and Spain, the BMA has warned.

Surgical mask (Photo: ballyscanlon/Getty Images)
Surgical mask (Photo: ballyscanlon/Getty Images)

At least 50 doctors have died from COVID-19 in Italy and 10,000 Spanish healthcare professionals are reported to have been infected, following concerns over shortages of personal protection equipment (PPE).

Warnings over the impact on health professionals in Italy and Spain came as the first deaths among UK health professionals were confirmed - with an ENT consultant in the Midlands and a GP in Essex both believed to have died from COVID-19.

Almost 11,000 people have now died from the virus in Italy, with almost 100,000 cases confirmed by the government. In Spain 85,000 cases have been confirmed, with 7,340 deaths. In the UK, 19,522 cases have been confirmed, and the number of deaths rose sharply to 1,228 by 5pm on 28 March.

PPE shortage

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul has warned that British doctors will die without proper protection, saying that the UK could be ‘weeks away’ from facing the same situation as Italy.

Doctors in hospitals and GP practices across the UK are continuing to report problems around PPE - a situation Dr Nagpaul said posed an ‘unacceptable risk’ to the lives of both doctors and patients.

Dr Nagpaul recently warned that thousands of GPs and hospital staff are at risk of illness or death because of inadequate equipment.

In a letter to Italy’s medical associations, Dr Nagpaul offered his ‘sincerest condolences’. He wrote: ‘The death of one doctor is a tragedy, but to lose more than 50 is a catastrophe.

‘Doctors and other healthcare workers in the UK have watched the situation unfold in Italy with a sense of trepidation and horror. We have heard Italy’s doctors raise concerns about a lack of PPE - and now we see the grave impact this has had.

Coronavirus impact

In the past few weeks Spanish clinicians have criticised their government for providing inadequate PPE during the outbreak. One Spanish doctors’ group has filed a lawsuit against regional health authorities over shortages of scrubs, masks and goggles, according to a Reuters report.

One Spanish doctor working outside the Spanish capital of Madrid wrote on Twitter: ‘Today I've once again had to face COVID-19 without [an adequate face mask]. To get [eye protection] I have to wait for a colleague to finish his shift. I don't know if [the Spanish government] have some spare ones?’

A hospital cardiologist based Barcelona highlighted similar issues: ‘Spain has become the country with the second most deaths after Italy and has overtaken China, what’s caused this? Reusing masks over several shifts, using plastic bags and robes, a country behind the times… We have to do things better to halt this pandemic.’

The Spanish government recently announced it had secured a deal with China for the delivery of millions of new pieces of protective equipment. The deal worth 432 million euros will include millions of masks and gloves.

A GPonline survey recently revealed that more than four in five GPs were not satisfied with the quantity or quality of PPE supplied to their practice. Meanwhile, some GPs have been told by the CCGs to buy their own masks amid shortages.

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