COVID-19: RCN demands action over ‘unconscionable’ lack of PPE

Reports some front-line nurses have been told to cope without PPE when supplies run low

A nurse at a COVID-19 drive-through testing station for NHS staff in Chessington, Greater London
Picture: Getty

The RCN has written to workplace health and safety regulator the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) demanding intervention over nurses’ lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

RCN concerns over lack of suitable and sufficient PPE

Calling the situation ‘unconscionable’, RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair voiced concerns that some NHS and social care employers were failing to follow statutory obligations in relation to the provision of PPE.

Her letter to HSE chief executive Sarah Albon reads: ‘I continue to receive reports of a lack of suitable and sufficient PPE available to all nursing staff, including hospitals, GP surgeries, care homes, hospices and community nurses visiting people in their homes.’

It follows a report from the British Medical Association (BMA) that nurses on one COVID-19 ward were told they will ‘just have to cope’ when PPE runs out.

BMA calls for clarification on care without PPE 

One doctor told the BMA: ‘The consultant microbiologist told the nurses on the COVID ward today: PPE is running out and when it does, they will just have to cope.’

The BMA has now called for clarity from the government on what healthcare staff should do and what risks they should not have to take if they do not have adequate PPE.

Employers are scrambling to get protective equipment such as goggles and masks for front-line staff amid a global shortage as a result of the pandemic.

One general practice ordered face shields on Amazon in an effort to protect its staff when the regular supply chain failed.

Trust makes plea for donations of goggles and masks

Gateshead Health Foundation NHS Trust also issued a plea on social media on Monday asking for local businesses to help supply goggles and masks.

The University of Derby has donated PPE and wipes, cleaning materials and alcohol gels, which would ordinarily be used by its nursing students, to Chesterfield Royal Hospital.

Online crowdfunding appeals to raise money for PPE have also been launched by some care providers.

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Unite lead professional officer for health visiting Obi Amadi said: ‘In many areas, [health visitors and community nurses] have been struggling to keep themselves and those they are visiting safe because of the lack of PPE. There is also a reported lack of hand sanitisers.’

Nurse campaigning organisation Nurses United has created an online tool for health or social care staff to report lack of equipment, training, sick leave or testing as services respond to the  pandemic.

Government invites calls to helpline to ‘ensure PPE is delivered’

On 31 March, cabinet office minister Michael Gove said: ‘Just yesterday hundreds of thousands of aprons, eye protectors, respiratory masks, surgical masks and gloves reached the front line.

‘There is a 24-hour helpline – if any front-line NHS worker is concerned about not having the PPE equipment they need, they can call in order to ensure that PPE is delivered.’

Nursing on the COVID-19 front line

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