The consequences of not having adequate personal protective equipment for NHS staff are devastating
Doctors with PPE at the Cotugno hospital emergency room for infectious diseases, in Naples city. | PA Images
Barely a day goes by without pictures online of frontline staff fashioning protection out of clinical waste bags. We need to ensure NHS staff are adequately protected so we don’t spread the infection between patients.
The challenge that coronavirus poses to our society is unprecedented. It is a scary and worrying time, especially for our NHS. Having worked as a frontline A&E doctor this weekend, in my local hospital, I am increasingly concerned that our health service may buckle under the increased strain that Covid-19 has brought.
Our only priority must be to protect lives. Every possible resource we have should be dedicated to that single objective. Crucially, our NHS and healthcare workers on the frontlines must be given whatever resources they need to tackle this and to save lives. It’s disheartening then, that basic resources are in short supply. Full personal protective equipment (PPE) is vital to not only protect frontline staff, but also to limit the spread of infection to our loved ones and to our patients.
The Government have known this crisis was coming for weeks, and yet they still have not been fully prepared for it. A country like the UK should not be having to ask manufacturing companies to switch production to provide emergency ventilators, or for NHS workers to have to go without PPE. The first part of my shift this weekend was spent looking for the correct masks and aprons - this is happening to frontline workers ahead of every shift, across the country. While we would all rather be treating patients, we have to ensure that we are adequately protected so we don’t spread the infection between patients. The consequences of this for NHS staff are devastating.
There’s a feeling amongst many frontline staff that protective equipment is already being rationed. A few weeks ago, the guidance for healthcare staff treating people with confirmed cases of Covid-19 was to wear a full FFP3 mask as well as gloves and a full apron - now, that guidance has changed and we are told to only wear gloves and a basic surgical mask. Barely a day goes by without pictures online of frontline staff fashioning protection out of clinical waste bags. We need full transparency on decisions and changes to guidance, otherwise concerns will only grow.
As this virus spreads, and as more and more people are forced into hospital, NHS workers are going to have to start making very difficult choices because of the limited resources they have available. They are going to have to start deciding who can access the most urgent care, including who is given priority for the last available ventilator - they’ll be making impossible choices about whose lives can be saved. We have already seen this happening in Italy, and it is an unimaginable tragedy for medics who are dedicated to saving lives above all else. The best way to help frontline staff who go to work to save lives, is for everyone else to stay home.
We will get through this, together. The Government must take responsibility for providing all the resources and equipment the NHS needs, including vital PPE, for communicating the message on social distancing clearly to the public, and for enforcing it robustly. I welcome the new, more stringent measures announced yesterday – however, as Mike Ashley has shown, there’s still room for people to exploit it.
As a country, we must do what will save the most lives. That’s true of the Government, people across the country, and medics on the frontline.
The faster we get on top of this disease, the faster our society will be able to tackle this virus, and fewer lives will be lost. If we all work together, keeping our communities safe, we can and we will save lives.
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan is the Labour MP for Tooting.