More than two thirds of GPs rely on PPE they bought or were donated

More than two thirds of GPs have had to rely on PPE that they have bought themselves or had donated during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a new BMA poll.

(Photo: Yevhenii Orlov/Getty Images)
(Photo: Yevhenii Orlov/Getty Images)

According to the poll of more than 5,000 GPs, only 31% said they had not relied on PPE they had bought themselves or received as a donation. Over half (54%) said they had personally bought equipment or had kit donated for their practice, while 29% said they had either bought PPE or relied on donated equipment for their personal use.

Around one in six GPs (16%) said that they 'rarely' or 'never' had sufficient PPE for safe contact with patients - and only 31% said that they always had the right equipment available.

The poll also revealed that practices are still facing widespread problems securing recommended PPE for GPs and practice staff.

PPE shortage

When asked about the availability of PPE during the previous week, 19% said that they had no supply at all of eye protection, a further 18% said there were shortages and only half said they had access to adequate supply. The remainder were unsure.

Meanwhile 8% of GPs said they had no supply of fluid-repellent face masks, a further 17% said there were shortages and only 63% said their supply was adequate. Aprons and gloves seemed to be more readily available, the survey suggested.

Access to PPE has been an ongoing problem since COVID-19 first hit the UK. Last month GPs in Kent called the situation 'shambolic', warning that no practice in the county had adequate supplies of the vital equipment. Meanwhile, GPonline has reported on GPs 3D printing PPE or working with companies to do so, and purchasing items from DIY stores.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'In what is the biggest survey of frontline NHS staff during this crisis, thousands of doctors have told the BMA that they have had to personally buy PPE for themselves or their department or rely on donations.

Supply failure

'On the one-hand it shows how resourceful they have been and how much support there has been from the general public in providing kit; but far more importantly, it is a damning indictment of the government’s abject failure to make sure healthcare workers across the country are being supplied with the life-saving kit they should be.'

The BMA has run the survey three times in recent weeks and Dr Nagpaul said that overall it suggested that there had been an improvement in the provision of PPE, but he added that there was 'still a lot for the government to do'.

'The government has five tests it has said must be met to ease lockdown – the first of which is "making sure the NHS can cope". Six weeks into this crisis, how can the government be confident that this condition is anywhere near being met, or that the pandemic is under control, when the very people on the frontline are not being made safe?' Dr Nagpaul said.

During a debate on COVID-19 in the House of Commons on Tuesday, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said that the government now had a 'better distribution system for PPE'.

PPE distribution

'Getting the distribution of PPE to the frontline is critical,' Mr Hancock said. 'It has been a huge operation; the head of the Army has called it the largest logistical operation that this country has seen in 40 years.

'It is challenging because there is a global shortage of supply. We are working to get that supply as effective as possible. It is undoubtedly improving, but there is an awful lot of work still to do.

'Having the national shortage call centre – the phone line that anybody can call if a shortage is coming up – is an important part of the response. So, too, are the automated online deliveries for the smaller settings. But we continue day and night to try to do everything we can to improve the flow of PPE to the frontline.'

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