Doctors will die without proper PPE in COVID-19 outbreak, warns BMA

Thousands of GPs and hospital staff are at risk of illness or death because they do not have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to treat patients with COVID-19, the BMA has warned.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)

Doctors have warned that supplies of gowns, masks, aprons and goggles are not getting through to frontline staff in many areas despite government promises that 'millions more' PPE kits are being delivered.

BMA leaders said the shortages are 'totally unacceptable' and must be resolved immediately - warning that doctors' lives, along with the health of their families and the sustainability of the NHS workforce were being put at risk.

Doctors say they have been told to go and buy their own equipment from DIY stores - and resorted to borrowing children's safety goggles.

PPE supplies

The warning comes after an exclusive GPonline survey revealed that more than four in five GPs were not satisfied with the quantity or quality of PPE supplied to their practice.

BMA deputy chair Dr David Wrigley told GPonline that his own 24,000-patient practice in Lancashire was running low on PPE - and that an order for further supplies had been cancelled without notice.

The practice had been advised not to see as many patients as normal to minimise use of PPE, he said, and to use PPE only if patients were suspected to have coronavirus.

But the Carnforth GP said: 'Face-to-face appointments now are only for patients who really need to be seen and are particularly unwell.

COVID-19

'I think it is sensible to assume that every patient has the virus to protect ourselves and the patient to prevent spread.'

He said there had also been suggestions that practices may need to hand over their supplies of PPE to hospitals.

'It beggars belief,' he said. 'We have a lot of anxious and worried staff due to confusion around PPE and provision. There has been a gross failure by government to provide enough equipment - stockpiling should have started earlier.'

Doctors have told the BMA of their concerns over PPE. One wrote: 'Coughed on by Covid patients all day today. No visors available…. tomorrow I’m borrowing my nine-year-old’s safety specs she got in a science party bag. I wish this was actually a joke.'

Testing

Another said: 'We have no testing or PPE on mental health units, and the environment was never designed to contain an epidemic. Given that asymptomatic people can spread the virus, within weeks 100% of patients and staff will be infected, and it will be just pot luck who survives.'

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'A construction worker wouldn’t be allowed to work without a hard hat and proper boots. A bee-keeper wouldn’t inspect a hive without proper protective clothing.

'And yet this government expects NHS staff to put themselves at risk of serious illness, or even death, by treating highly infectious COVID-19 patients without wearing proper protection. This is totally unacceptable.

'We are told that lorries are shipping hundreds of boxes of supplies of PPE to GPs and to hospitals but that isn’t the reality for thousands of our members.'

A managing partner at a large group practice in Dorset said on Twitter she had been advised that the practice would have to obtain its own supplies of PPE - warning that without the correct equipment it was not safe to see patients.

A spokesperson for Dorset CCG told GPonline: 'We are working closely with NHS England & Improvement and have been assured there is enough PPE including millions of masks, gloves, hand sanitisers and other kit making its way to the right place across the country over the next few days.'

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