GPs barred from speaking out about PPE shortages

GPs in parts of the UK have been banned from speaking out publicly over concerns about personal protective equipment (PPE) and asked to remove face visors to avoid 'frightening patients'.

PPE concerns (Photo: Photo Alto/Matthieu Spohn/Getty Images)
PPE concerns (Photo: Photo Alto/Matthieu Spohn/Getty Images)

GPs - including those in traditional practice roles - report being told by CCGs not to give interviews to the press, and to avoid posting comments on social media about PPE concerns.

GPs working in community hospitals who have chosen to wear PPE they have purchased themselves - such as face visors to protect their eyes - have been asked to remove it. Hospital doctors also report threats over their future careers if they speak out over PPE concerns.

NHS doctors have also reported trying to raise concerns about PPE supplies 'through the proper channels' without success, according to reports collected by the Doctors Association UK (DAUK).

PPE shortage

Pressure on doctors not to voice concerns about PPE comes amid widespread reports of shortages of kit, and concerns about the standard of protection supplied to NHS staff.

More than four out of five GPs polled last month by GPonline said they were not satisfied with the quality or quantity of PPE supplied to their practice.

The BMA warned earlier this week that NHS frontline staff were being forced to put themselves in situations that are 'simply not safe' - treating patients with fever with only basic masks, aprons and gloves. Doctors have warned that many practices are struggling to secure even this basic PPE, despite government promises that millions of items of PPE are being delivered.

One GP working in a traditional practice role told the DAUK: 'A journalist got in touch, asking me to speak about the situation on the frontline and limits of PPE. I was told I had to get permission from the CCG to speak, so I contacted them.'

GP safety

A senior CCG official told the GP not to speak to the press. The GP said: 'I have been asked not to speak to them and when I told the journalist this, she said lots of doctors have said the same thing, it's like we've all been told not to speak to the media to give the true situation. I don't want to rock the boat locally and go against advice, but equally, can they stop me speaking to the media and giving a true account of what's happening? Is there anything we can do about this?'

Meanwhile, a GP working a 10-hour shift at a community hospital seeing patients who had not been triaged said he was 'stunned' when he was told to remove equipment he had purchased to improve protection beyond the 'basic PPE' supplied by his employer.

'I was absolutely stunned when I was told four hours into my shift that I should dispense with my visor, dispensable oversuit and face protection. I have been made aware that other colleagues have been asked to remove their choice of protection when they tried to minimise the spread of infection.'

DAUK president Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden said: 'Doctors across the frontlines are extremely concerned about the lack of PPE. Many have told us they have tried to raise concerns through the proper channels but have been warned against taking these concerns further.

'At this time when we desperately need every single doctor on the frontline, some have had their careers threatened, and at least two doctors have been sent home from work. This is unacceptable. Doctors have a moral duty to make their concerns regarding COVID-19 public if these cannot be resolved locally. We owe that to our patients. At this time of national crisis it is vital that we have a "learn not blame" culture, and that the NHS is transparent with the public.'

An NHS England spokesperson said: 'Once a major incident occurs it is vital that the public receive fast, authoritative, open, clear and consistent information from their NHS, which is why in line with longstanding EPRR protocols, official communications are therefore always co-ordinated nationally.

'But staff continue to speak in a personal, trade union or professional body capacity, and it is self-evident from print and broadcast media coverage throughout this incident that staff are able and do in fact speak freely.'

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