GPs demand clear advice amid 'life-threatening' shortages of PPE

GPs have demanded clear government advice on how doctors should approach high-risk consultations during the coronavirus outbreak amid widespread shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).

BMA: warning over PPE
BMA: warning over PPE

GPs say they are being forced to put themselves in situations that are 'simply not safe' - treating patients with fever with only basic masks, aprons and gloves. Many practices are struggling to secure even this basic PPE, doctors have warned.

BMA leaders have pointed to a recent statement from the government's communities secretary Robert Jenrick, who said ‘we cannot and should not ask healthcare workers to be on the frontline without appropriate protective equipment'.

Ministers have promised that millions of items of PPE are being purchased and distributed by the government, but doctors' leaders say frontline NHS staff in hospitals and GP practices continue to face 'life-threatening shortages of PPE' that put both themselves and patients at risk.

Safety concerns

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'Despite the promises about the urgent delivery of PPE, the reality for many practices on the ground remains the same.

'We are still hearing reports that many have insufficient PPE supplied to them and don't know if or when more will be coming. Understandably, many GPs remain seriously concerned that what has been provided does not offer them sufficient protection for both themselves and for patients.

'This situation cannot be allowed to continue. Practices need action not more promises.'

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul told MPs last week that WHO advice was 'very clear that a healthcare worker like a GP or a primary care physician should be in receipt of protection comprising eye protection, a gown, gloves and a mask' - and that PPE supplied during the current outbreak fell well short of this standard.

The union has reported that some doctors have secured far higher-quality PPE to protect themselves when seeing patients - but others have been unable to do so.

Personal protective equipment

A GP in Wolverhampton told the BMA: 'Only this weekend myself and a colleague treated a child with a fever, in an urgent care setting with only a surgical mask, flimsy gowns and gloves as per current Public Health England advice. This is simply not safe.

'I know locally there is huge variability and availability of PPE. Some doctors are using hazmat suits with eye protection and respirators to see any symptomatic patients whereas I am hearing that most GP practices are struggling to source even surgical masks.'

Another GP said: 'We've placed an order, it's been accepted but they will only give us half of what we need and cannot tell us when it will be delivered.'

Warnings over the lack of adequate PPE come after confirmation that two NHS doctors have died after contracting COVID-19 - one a 76-year-old GP, and the other a 55-year-old ENT consultant.

GPonline has also reported on warnings from the BMA over the need to learn lessons from Italy and Spain after a wave of deaths and infections among healthcare workers.

A DHSC spokesperson said last week that the government was 'working around the clock to give the social care sector and wider-NHS the equipment and support they need to tackle this outbreak'.

The spokesperson added: 'We have delivered millions more items of PPE for frontline staff at care homes, home care providers and hospices as well as to hospitals, ambulance trusts, GP practices and pharmacists. The full weight of the government is behind this effort.'

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