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Nurses face ‘impossible decision between health and duty’ due to lack of PPE, says nursing union

The nursing union say their ability to care for patients is 'fundamentally compromised' by a lack of PPE (PA)

3 min read

Nurses on the frontline of the coronavirus outbreak are having their ability to care for patients “fundamentally compromised” by a lack of safety gear, according to their union.

The chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Dame Donna Kinnair, said her members “are facing impossible decisions” between protecting their health and their sense of duty because they do not have enough personal protection equipment (PPE).

The Government has repeatedly insisted that it has dispatched millions of items of PPE to help medical staff treating coronavirus sufferers.

But in a statement to the Health Select Committee, the RCN say “public commitments have not translated into increases in consistently deployed and accessible stocks of adequate PPE”.

They report that due to inadequate supplies “there are reports that members have been required to re-use equipment, to use equipment previously marked as out of date, to clean down old gowns with alcohol wipes, and to use alternative equipment donated for protection”.

The union has written to the Health and Safety Executive calling for an intervention, adding the “situation is unconscionable”.

In a letter to Jeremy Hunt, the health committee chair, Ms Kinnair said: "Our safety and ability to care for patients is being fundamentally compromised by the lack of adequate and correct supplies of vital PPE and the slow and small-scale roll out of Covid-19 testing."

She added: "Our members are facing impossible decisions between their own or their family’s health and their sense of duty. 

"The distribution and adequacy of PPE has led nursing staff to share equipment,  buy their own supplies or to reuse single-use PPE. 

"Although there are announcements that millions of pieces of PPE are being distributed, they aren’t reaching the frontline across all health and care settings.”

Government officials have said that more than 600 million of pieces of kit have been distributed to frontline workers in recent weeks.

A hotline has also been established for NHS staff to call if they need more in their department.

In response a Department of Health and Social Care 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. 

“Yesterday we delivered over 30 million items of PPE to NHS Trusts in England, and over the last few weeks, over 600 million items of PPE have been delivered, including masks, gowns, aprons and gloves.

"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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