COVID-19: ‘promised PPE supplies are not reaching front-line staff’

Inadequate provision is compromising nurse and patient safety, RCN tells health and social care committee

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Nurses are cleaning old gowns with alcohol wipes, reusing single-use safety gear, and using out-of-date supplies due to an ongoing lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), the RCN has warned.

Dame Donna Kinnair: ‘Our safety
is being compromised’

Inadequate supplies are compromising nurses’ safety

In a letter to parliamentary health and social care committee chair Jeremy Hunt, RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair says inadequate PPE supplies are compromising patient care and putting nurses’ safety at risk.

Despite repeated government assurances that more PPE is on the way, it is not reaching the front line in all health and care settings, the college says.

Professor Kinnair adds that nurses are being forced to choose between their sense of duty, and the safety of themselves and their families.

Nurses forced to share PPE or buy their own supplies

‘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 writes.

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

Officials have said that millions of pieces of kit have been distributed and a hotline has been established to help front-line staff get PPE where it is needed.

But an RCN submission of evidence to the health and social care committee’s COVID-19 inquiry, which accompanied Professor Kinnair’s letter, added that the process to mitigate the PPE shortfall had been too slow and not transparent.

‘Public commitments have not translated into increases in consistently deployed and accessible stocks of adequate PPE,’ it states.

‘This has resulted in anxiety and fear at an already challenging time for nursing staff.’

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Acute shortages of PPE in GP surgeries and care homes

A lack of PPE and hand sanitiser is particularly acute for nurses in GP surgeries and care homes, it adds.

The RCN submission states that insufficient and inadequate PPE means health and care employers are breaching their obligations, adding that the college has written to the Health and Safety Executive calling for an intervention on the issue.

Responding to the RCN letter, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the government was working around the clock to provide NHS and social care staff with the PPE they need.

‘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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