An exclusive GPonline poll of more than 300 GPs shows that 85% are not satisfied with the quality of PPE provided - citing concerns that paper masks, ‘flimsy’ plastic aprons and gloves and a lack of eye protection have left them unequipped to treat patients with COVID-19.
GPs fear they could run out of equipment as the pandemic grows, with 82% of respondents not satisfied with the quantity of equipment delivered to their practices.
GPs reported feeling ‘betrayed’, unsupported and taken for granted as the pandemic continues to grow - with one respondent warning that failing to care for frontline staff threatened to ‘reap disaster’ for the NHS.
Some practices said they had purchased their own supplies of PPE to protect themselves because NHS-supplied kit was inadequate - and doctors said they felt they and their families were being put at risk, hitting out at ‘awful planning’ since early warnings that the outbreak was coming from the start of the year.
GPs also condemned the ongoing wait for priority COVID-19 testing to be made available for frontline NHS staff - with the workforce hit hard in many practices as doctors are forced to self-isolate when they or family members display symptoms.
‘This just shows how much we are valued,’ said one doctor responding to the poll. ‘No wonder GP numbers are falling. They know we will continue to work whatever the circumstances - shame on them.’
Another GP said: ‘Disgraceful - as ever, GPs bottom of the food chain.’
Despite confirmation from NHS England that GP practices’ income will be protected if they drop non-essential work, practices have been advised that many services must continue throughout the COVID-19 outbreak to avoid a surge in preventable illness from other causes.
And although practices have adapted rapidly to the outbreak by switching many patient contacts to telephone or digital systems, GPs have been told to ‘prepare for a significant increase in home visiting’.
Some housebound patients and those in care homes will need face-to-face visits from GPs and other primary care staff for essential wound care or other assessments.
But GPs say the equipment they have leaves them at risk: ‘We have been sent aprons that are lower quality than the ones we already had, no long sleeved gloves. Fluid resistant paper masks, no eye protection, no protective suits. We will be unprotected if we have to do palliative care for care home patients with COVID19.’
Another respondent to the survey said: ‘Aprons not gowns, no eye protection at all and masks not adequate to use if going to see someone with COVID-19 for things that are essential - eg INR [testing for blood clot risk]/dressings.’
One angry GP wrote: ‘Paper face mask about as much use as my nan’s scarf.’
Doctors who took part in the survey also hit out at the ongoing delay in rolling out COVID-19 testing for frontline staff. One respondent said practices were being asked to see patients ‘with a reasonable chance of having the virus’ using inadequate kit - and that two GPs at her practice were already off work with coughs. ‘They both want to be tested, but can’t get one,’ she wrote. ‘Crazy.’
The findings come after repeated calls from organisations representing doctors for better supplies of PPE to protect frontline NHS staff.
Earlier this week the Doctors Association UK delivered an open letter to prime minister Boris Johnson signed by 5,000 doctors calling for adequate PPE. The BMA has also urged the government to guarantee proper protective equipment for NHS workers.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has insisted the NHS is delivering millions of items of PPE to hospitals, GP practices, care homes and other providers and working to purchase more.
‘It’s all about doing everything we can to keep the NHS frontline health and social care staff safe while they do their duty for the country,’ he told the BBC earlier this week.
As of 23 March, 8,077 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the UK, with 422 deaths. The UK has now entered almost complete lockdown - with the general public urged to stay at home, going out only to exercise once a day, collect medication or food or to support a vulnerable person.