Just 2% of GPs feel fully protected against COVID-19, BMA poll shows

Most GPs 'rarely' or 'never' have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for safe contact with patients and still cannot access testing, according to a BMA poll that found just one in 50 feel fully protected against COVID-19.

Surgical mask (Photo: Sebastian Condrea/Getty Images)
Surgical mask (Photo: Sebastian Condrea/Getty Images)

Despite updated guidance from Public Health England (PHE) last week confirming that GPs should wear eye protection during contact with patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection, just 9% of GPs said they had adequate supplies - while 64% reported 'no supply at all' of eye protection.

Acute shortages of fluid-repellent facemasks were also highlighted by GPs - with more than half reporting shortages or no supply at all. More than half of GPs who responded also said they had had to buy their own facemasks or eye protection.

Meanwhile, a total of 61% of respondents to the BMA poll said GPs self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms were 'never' able to access tests to confirm whether they were infected. A further 21% were able to access tests 'sometimes', while just 9% reported testing was available 'always'.

Following repeated promises from ministers to increase supplies of PPE and to deliver improved access to testing for frontline staff, more than two thirds of GPs responding to the BMA poll warned that they did not feel 'personally supported and confident that everything is being done' by the government .

Taking all factors into account, half of the almost 500 GP respondents to the poll said they did 'not at all' feel safely protected from coronavirus infection in their place of work - with a further 48% feeling 'partly' protected and just 2% fully protected.

Protection is also woefully lacking in hospitals - with just 12% of hospital doctors feeling fully protected from COVID-19 infection.

Echoing warnings from a GPonline poll last month, one GP told the BMA: 'I feel betrayed by the government who are not transparent enough to say that they do not have the ideal supplies and are therefore asking us to put ourselves in harms’ way with suboptimal protection.'

PPE shortage

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said NHS doctors were in a 'desperate' situation. 'Despite assurances from the government that PPE is making its way to the front line, this snapshot survey reveals a very different picture - healthcare workers in the UK simply do not have enough protective equipment to keep them safe.

'We are weeks into the most serious health crisis this country has faced in modern times and doctors are telling us they don’t have any or don’t have enough protective equipment. Until now, we have been hearing anecdotal stories about shortages or a lack of PPE, this survey confirms the extent of this failure.

'Doctors report being put into situations which clearly contravene the PHE guidance issued last week. They’ve told us they are pressurised to see a patient without adequate protection, or to perform a high-risk procedure where they are at risk of becoming infected, or where they may go on to infect another patient – and all because they don’t have the right PPE. They are putting themselves and the lives of their patients at risk.

'Increasing numbers of healthcare workers are dying from COVID-19 in the UK, including four doctors, and it is frankly disgraceful that frontline staff are still expected to work unprotected. We must protect doctors so they can protect patients.

Protecting NHS staff

'The government must get a grip on this situation now and give us cast iron assurances that each and every single doctor can be guaranteed access to PPE and be properly protected.'

A DHSC spokesperson said: 'We are working around the clock to give the NHS and the wider social care sector the equipment and support they need to tackle this outbreak.

'Every single hospital, community pharmacy and ambulance trust has now had a PPE delivery. Over the weekend we delivered over 34m pieces of PPE to NHS trusts in England, including over 8.8m aprons, and 7m facemasks.

'The full weight of the government is behind this effort and we continue to work closely with industry, social care providers, the NHS, NHS Supply Chain and the army so all our NHS and care staff have the protection they deserve.'

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