Government must show evidence behind PPE strategy, warns BMA

Chronic shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) across the NHS during the first wave of COVID-19 earlier this year cannot be repeated, the BMA has warned, calling on the government to publish the evidence behind its latest PPE strategy.

PPE supply (Photo: Justin Paget/Getty Images)
PPE supply (Photo: Justin Paget/Getty Images)

The government published plans this week on PPE supplies for the NHS as cases of coronavirus continue to rise - promising an 'uninterrupted supply' of equipment through its PPE portal.

But doctors' leaders have demanded to see the evidence behind the plans - warning that the profession was told at the outset of the pandemic that the government's PPE stockpile was adequate, only to find that reality was 'very different' as acute shortages set in.

BMA leaders have also warned that plans for a four-month stockpile set out in the PPE strategy may not be enough 'given the escalating spread of the infection'. The number of daily cases of COVID-19 reported on 29 September rose to 7,143 - the highest figure recorded since the pandemic began.

PPE stockpile

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'With a second wave upon us, health and care workers must be properly protected this time. There must be no repeat of the terrible examples of insufficient quantities of PPE, which put doctors at risk and under pressure to see patients without feeling adequately protected at the start of the pandemic.

'More non-COVID care is now being provided, and as the government has rightly recognised, this means there is still a huge demand for PPE. Given the NHS is likely to be hit by a triple whammy of rising COVID cases, winter pressures, and the additional work involved in dealing with the backlog of care, however, we need urgent assurance that this stockpile of PPE will be sufficient.

'Doctors will not forget the assurances they were given of the previous stockpile being sufficient at the onset of the pandemic, which resulted in a very different reality of acute shortages.'

However, government PPE tsar Lord Deighton has defended the plans for a four-month stockpile in comments to The Times.

COVID-19 pandemic

He said: 'It’s a four-month supply based on demand of full-on COVID. That’s a big, big number. I would be staggered if that isn’t a significantly conservative assumption so it’s probably a lot more than four months. That really does assume we’re back into April intensity, so that’s a lot.'

A government spokesperson added that the stockpile would be built up in addition to usual supply - and that if demand grew to a point at which the stockpile was required, further procurement would be triggered.

PPE supplies during the early stages of the pandemic presented a huge issue for the government as one in six GPs said that they 'rarely' or 'never' had sufficient PPE for safe contact with patients.

The new PPE strategy sets out how the government is preparing for the second wave of COVID-19 alongside seasonal pressures such as flu.

PPE items

Practices will now have access to a greater range of items, with the government's PPE Portal expanded to offer aprons, gloves, type IIR masks, hand hygiene and visors. Respirator masks and gowns will also be made available by October.

The government has also said it is 'listening to the reported practical difficulties with the use of some PPE experienced by women and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals, among others, and taking action to make sure user needs are adequately addressed in future provisions of PPE'.

A PPE usage survey of GP practices has also been carried out by the government to collect more information on ordering patterns and to determine what see what types of items are most needed.

Dr Nagpaul added: 'We are pleased to see that the BMA’s calls for more domestic manufacturing of PPE has been taken on board as well, with UK based supply anticipated to meet 70% of forecasted demand in December for PPE. While this will improve availability of protective equipment, it’s worth noting that this does not currently include gloves – a vital piece of PPE, which needs to be just as easily accessible as other items.

'Healthcare staff cannot work, cannot care for patients, without proper protection, which is why the government must build on this strategy with clear, tangible evidence to assure all health and social care workers that they will get the high-quality PPE they need and deserve, when and where it’s needed.'

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