NHS doctors will die unless they are given adequate personal protection to fight the coronavirus crisis, the British Medical Association today warned.
The doctors union slammed the Government for expecting frontline workers to push on through the pandemic despite not having enough masks, aprons or goggles.
Without personal protection, called PPE, the infection will spread and the epidemic will worsen. If doctors become sick, it will cause staff shortages at a time when the NHS is needed more than ever.
It comes amid an ongoing row about failings to provide PPE quickly enough since cases began creeping up in mid-February.
Medics across the nation are being forced to wear the ‘same scrubs for the entire day’ or have resorted to using cooking aprons and bin liners wrapped around their bodies instead.
Staff have told how they are ‘terrified’ of the consequences, including spreading the deadly virus to family members at home.
While the British population isolates themselves indoors to avoid catching COVID-19, NHS workers are walking into a ‘warzone’ as thousands of infected patients flood hospitals.
NHS doctors will die unless they are given adequate personal protection to fight the coronavirus crisis, the British Medical Association today warned
Without personal protection, called PPE, the infection will spread and the epidemic will worsen. If doctors become sick, it will cause staff shortages at a time when the NHS is needed more than ever, it has been warned. Pictured, doctors in Italy
The stark warning from the BMA follows growing evidence that thousands of GPs and hospital staff are still not being provided with the kit they need to properly protect themselves and their patients.
The BMA has asked its members for their accounts of how or if gowns, masks, aprons and goggles they are getting through to front line staff.
Reponses show that in the main, they simply are not receiving enough PPE. If they are, it’s in very small amounts and is rationed.
One doctor said: ‘Coughed on by Covid patients all day today. No visors available…. tomorrow I’m borrowing my nine-year-old’s safety specs she got in a science party bag. I wish this was actually a joke.’
Another said: ‘Given that asymptomatic people can spread the virus, within weeks 100 per cent of patients and staff will be infected, and it will be just pot luck who survives.’
The BMA’s Chair of Council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul said international data shows healthcare workers are significantly at risk of catching of COVID-19, and are dying.
He said: ‘A construction worker wouldn’t be allowed to work without a hard hat and proper boots. Even a bee-keeper wouldn’t inspect a hive without proper protective clothing.
‘And yet this Government expects NHS staff to put themselves at risk of serious illness, or even death, by treating highly infectious COVID-19 patients without wearing proper protection. This is totally unacceptable.
‘We are told that lorries are shipping hundreds of boxes of supplies of PPE to GPs and to hospitals but that isn’t the reality for thousands of our members.
‘The type of PPE being supplied in not in keeping with WHO recommendations.’
NHS staff have been issued guidance about what types of protective equipment to wear and when – those treating coronavirus patients on a general ward must wear gloves, a mask and an apron at all times
HOW WILL RETIRED NHS STAFF BE PROTECTED?
Up to 65,000 ex-doctors and nurses are being told ‘your NHS needs you’ to fight the biggest health crisis in more than a century.
Anyone who quit or retired in the past three years is being urged by ministers to return to help tackle coronavirus.
But at the same time those already on the frontlines say they can’t get their hands on the proper masks and protective equipment to stop them catching the disease.
People fear the retired coming back to work could be risky because older people are known to be most likely to die if they catch the coronavirus, and depriving them of the right equipment could be a recipe for disaster.
One said on Twitter: ‘You are expecting retired doctors and nurses to [be] kamikaze pilots, they are in the most at risk group.’
Another added: ‘What could possibly go wrong?’
Emails, which will go out this morning, echo Lord Kitchener’s Your Country Needs You recruitment poster from the First World War.
Staff will be allowed to re-register immediately with either the General Medical Council, the doctors’ professional watchdog, or the Nursing and Midwifery Council, its equivalent for nurses.
NHS officials have not put a figure on the number of former doctors and nurses they expect to bring back but last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hoped to ‘get our hands on as many as possible’.
All returning staff will be paid fully according to the amount of time they can work and will be given brief training and induction. The NHS is also allowing some of the most experienced trainee doctors and nurses to join the front line.
Those in the final year of their degrees will be allowed to take up paid roles without having to pass their final set of exams.
Last week the BMA told of doctors having to go to DIY stores or even building sites in desperation for some form of protective gear.
Dr Nagpaul said: ‘GPs in many parts of England have been told to go and buy their own stocks, only to find none is available. In Cumbria, GP practice staff went to Wickes to try and secure masks.’
The sheer scale of the problem has been brought to the surface after doctors wrote to the BMA in their dozens.
One hospital doctor said: ‘We are being asked to risk our lives and our loved ones’ lives, in flimsy paper masks and plastic aprons. I don’t know if I can do it.
‘I just don’t know if I can. I don’t think it is fair to expect this of us. I am terrified. How can this risk to practitioners, other patients, practitioners’ families be justified?’
‘My husband is not a medic and I cry every day thinking I am going to infect him.’
The BMA pleaded with the Government to declare where the PPE they have promised for so long is.
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England said today PPE was ‘right at the top of her work list’.
Jenny Harries said: ‘I do know there were a few distribution problems at the start because we have never had to deal with this sort of demand in our health service before.
‘We have drafted in the Army to help distribute and I know that all hospitals have had new stocks going into them this week, including through the night to make sure they reach the front line.’
Dr Nagpaul said: ‘It’s time for the government to be transparent about the level of supplies we really have, and how they can provide healthcare staff with the level of protection they need.
‘We know hundreds, if not thousands of doctors and frontline staff are risking their health and lives every hour of every day caring for Covid-19 patients and they should not have to do so without the right protection.’
An NHS worker identified only as Lorraine said doctors were walking into a ‘war zone’ due to the lack of PPE as the ‘tsunami’ of the illness hits.
She said her manager had sent staff a message the day before asking them to share masks which would be ridden with other people’s germs.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain today Lorraine added: ‘We are going into a war zone’
A paramedic is seen above without any protective equipment, while doctors and nurses are seen behind him with the facemask and scrubs
Speaking on Good Morning Britain today, Lorraine, said: ‘We are going into a war zone. This is definitely something I hope we will never have to experience… ever again. But if we do I would hope that we are more prepared.
NHS NURSE IN A CRITICAL CONDITION WITH COVID-19
A ‘fit and healthy’ nurse, 36, on the frontline of the battle against coronavirus is in a critical condition after being diagnosed with the illness, her devastated family revealed on March 22.
Areema Nasreen, a mother-of-three, tested positive for the virus after developing a soaring temperature, body aches and a cough.
The nurse, who has no underlying health conditions, and has worked for the NHS for 16 years, was taken to Walsall Manor Hospital in the West Midlands after her condition worsened.
She is now on a ventilator in intensive care – being cared for by the medics she usually works alongside.
Areema’s sister is now urging people to take the illness seriously – saying it is ‘not just the elderly at risk’.
Kazeema said: ‘My sister who is an amazing nurse on the front line and who always helps so many has now caught this virus. She is critically ill in ICU, on a ventilator and fighting for her life.
‘Her temperature would not go down and her cough was so bad it affected her lungs.
‘Eventually she got taken to hospital and they tested her two days ago. It came back positive and now she is in the Intensive Care Unit at the Manor Hospital.
‘Areema loves the NHS. Her colleagues are like a second family and they have been truly amazing with her – and us. They are keeping us all strong and doing everything they can for her.’
‘We are frightened, of course we’re frightened, but we’re still walking through those doors.
‘Because this is why we came into this job, as nurses and as doctors and as healthcare workers, porters, cleaning staff, staff to make sure we are fed and watered.’
NHS medics working across the UK fighting the coronavirus pandemic could be forced to ‘quit the profession’ they love due to the risks.
Dr Rinesh Parmar, chair of the Doctor’s Association UK told the Guardian that if doctors feel there is no longer adequate PPE equipment, then they will have ‘no choice’ but to ‘give up the profession they love’.
It comes after the government announced it would be opening a new hospital at the ExCel centre in London to help deal with the outbreak.
The government also announced it would be looking for over 250,000 new volunteers to help with the outbreak. The recruitment drive has since been undermined by doctors and nurses already working, as they claim they are still being expected to take ‘unacceptable risks’.
But the news added unease around how the government will supply volunteers and the new London hospital with PPE.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 today Dr Lisa Anderson said as well as doing her usual job as a cardiology professional, she is also helping out on the coronavirus wards.
‘Patients I saw yesterday are coughing they are covered in sweat and I am wearing the same blues throughout the day, there’s a real shortage of blues and you need to wear the same ones for the entire day.
‘I have got patients sweat on there, there is nothing I can do, I then go and see my other patients.
Dr Rinesh Parmar (pictured above) said people could walk out of the profession they love if a shortage of equipment continues
A member of the ambulance service wearing personal protective equipment is seen leading a patient (unseen) into an ambulance at St Thomas’ Hospital in London on March 24, 2020
‘We are just desperately discharging our patients, to get them out of the hospital the covid negative ones, and I’m discharging them not just to their own homes but to nursing homes, rehab centres and prisons, the ramifications for this are huge.’
Dr Parmar added that health professionals are not being given the PPE recommended by the WHO.
‘The WHO recommendations for most Covid patients are a full gown, visa mask and gloves, we are sent in equipped with short gloves, a little plastic apron and a surgical face mask, it’s completely inadequate.
‘We were told by our virologist yesterday that on our Covid wards due to the turnover of the air that the virus is in the air all the time that we should try and wear some kind of visas. We have no visas, it is not government guidance for us to have visas.’
Dr Anderson said the government is ‘going out on a limb and putting health workers at risk’.
‘We know that in Italy when they didn’t have enough PPE that 10 per cent of the entire work force are infected. That is a risk that is far too great to take, this is not a trivial disease.’
‘But the government hasn’t kept its side of the bargain with the NHS staff by not having enough PPE available to safeguard the health of doctors and nurses’.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are working around the clock to give the social care sector and wider-NHS the equipment and support they need to tackle this outbreak.
‘We have delivered millions more items of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline staff at care homes, home care providers and hospices as well as to hospitals, ambulance trusts, GP practices and pharmacists.
‘The full weight of the Government is behind this effort and we are working closely with industry, social care providers, the NHS, and the army to ensure the right equipment continues to be delivered.’