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Doctors’ union blasts ‘unforgivable’ shortage of protective gowns for NHS staff at risk of coronavirus

The Doctors’ Association said its members did not have the equipment needed for risky procedures.

3 min read

The supply of vital protective gowns needed to treat coronavirus patients “has faltered to the point where many trusts may soon run out”, a doctors’ union has warned.

The Doctors’ Association UK, which has launched a crowd-funding effort to secure its own supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), said nearly half of its members doing high-risk procedures were unable to access the gowns needed to do their jobs.

Ministers have faced sustained criticism over the level of protective equipment available to fronline NHS and care staff in recent days, with the Royal College of Nursing telling its members that they may have to refuse to treat patients altogether as a “last resort” if they cannot guarantee their own safety.

"We are straining every sinew" - Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, on Monday warned that some hospital trusts were having to deal with “hand-to-mouth” levels of supply on the long-sleeved gowns needed to protect staff from infection, even as other items of PPE were being secured.

He told the BBC: “If everything had been flowing exactly as had been ordered and if all of the material had properly passed its safety test, there would not be an issue.

“This is all really hand-to-mouth in terms of gown delivery, and we need to get to a more sustainable supply.”

The new survey from the Doctors’ Association found that just 52% of clinicians carrying out aerosol-generating procedures - those with the highest risk of transferring coronavirus - said they had access to the full-sleeve gowns needed to do their jobs.

The organisation’s president, Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, told The Guardian: “The supply of gowns has faltered to the point where many trusts may soon run out.

She added: “Our data shows that nearly half of all doctors doing the highest-risk procedures … do not have access to gowns. This is unforgivable. Doctors are dying. Nurses are dying. 

“Frontline staff have now had to take the PPE issue into their own hands. DAUK is working with crowdfunders including NHS Heroes Support and Let’s Beat Covid to help deliver donations of PPE to the frontlines, including 500 gowns this week. It is astounding that this effort has been left to frontline doctors who should be able to put all their energy into serving patients in fighting this pandemic.”

The findings come after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Boris Johnson while the Prime Minister himself recovers from coronavirus, sought to reassure frontline staff that their concerns are being heard.

Asked whether ministers should apologise for shortages of PPE, Mr Raab told the daily Number 10 press conference: “We understand the importance of getting PPE to the front line whether it’s in care homes or the NHS.

“I think the strongest practical reassurance they will want and that we can give them is that over the Bank Holiday weekend over 16 million items were delivered and we are straining every sinew to roll them out even further and even faster.”

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Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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