CONFUSION and concern is increasing about the exact situation regarding levels personal protection equipment (PPE) for frontline staff in the NHS – with management and staff at Basildon & Thurrock Hospital at the sharp end of a contradiction.
A leaked email sent to NHS trusts warns most will run out of gowns this weekend and will not have “sustainable” levels again until the middle of June, as revealed yesterday (Saturday April 18th) by the Independent.
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Healthcare workers have been advised to reuse gowns or wear different kit, such as plastic aprons with coveralls, if stocks in England run low.
Unions representing doctors and nurses have expressed concerns about the updated Public Health England guidance.
The government said it is working to provide the PPE stocks hospitals need. There have been warnings that trusts across England will run out of PPE over the weekend, reports the BBC.
There have been warnings some hospitals could run out of the gowns used in intensive care units this weekend.
Healthcare staff treating patients with Covid-19 have previously been advised to wear long-sleeved disposable fluid-repellent gowns.
As BBC reported (Friday 17th April), Public Health England changed its guidance on Friday, outlining three options if the gowns are not available as “some compromise is needed to optimise the supply of PPE in times of extreme shortages”.
One option is for hospitals to reserve the gowns for surgical operations and procedures which are likely to transmit respiratory pathogens.
Another is for staff to reuse “(washable) surgical gowns or coveralls or similar suitable clothing (for example, long-sleeved laboratory coat, long-sleeved patient gown or industrial coverall) with a disposable plastic apron for AGPs (aerosol-generating procedures) and high-risk settings with forearm washing once gown or coverall is removed”.
Chris Hopson, chairman of NHS Providers, which represents healthcare trusts across England, said in a tweet: “We have now reached the point where the national stock of fully fluid-repellent gowns and long-sleeved laboratory coats will be exhausted in the next 24 to 48 hours.”
He said that national leaders have left “no stone unturned” – but the gowns are made in China and those that were ordered weeks ago are currently only arriving in “fits and starts”, as reports the BBC.
The Royal College of Nursing said the guidance was developed without a full consultation and the British Medical Association (BMA) – which represents doctors – said any change must be driven by science, not availability.
Dr Rob Harwood, consultants committee chairman at the British Medical Association, said: “Too many healthcare workers have already died.
“More doctors and their colleagues cannot be expected to put their own lives on the line in a bid to save others, and this new advice means they could be doing just that. It’s not a decision they should have to make.”
Dr Harwood added: “It’s a real disappointment to us that the government has been unable, even after a month, to address this progressively worsening shortage of PPE.”
Unison, the UK’s largest trade union, has warned that staff in “high risk areas” might refuse to work if gowns run out.