Lack of PPE due to planning for wrong type of pandemic, inquiry told

RCN’s Rose Gallagher also tells UK COVID-19 Inquiry that government failed to consult nurses when pandemic planning and there was insufficient stockpiling of PPE
Photo of Rosemary Gallagher speaking at the UK COVID-19 Inquiry hearing

RCN’s Rose Gallagher also tells UK COVID-19 Inquiry that government failed to consult nurses when pandemic planning and there was insufficient stockpiling of PPE

Rose Gallagher speaking at the UK COVID-19 Inquiry hearing

Many nurses could not access personal protective equipment (PPE) because the UK government planned for the wrong type of pandemic, according to a nurse giving evidence at the UK COVID-19 Inquiry.

Speaking on 26 June, RCN professional lead for infection prevention and control Rose Gallagher told the inquiry how the government never considered a scenario where healthcare staff would need PPE over a prolonged period as it had narrowly focused on an influenza outbreak.

The inquiry, chaired by Baroness Hallett, is examining the UK’s preparedness for the pandemic.

‘Systems for cascade fit testing were not in place’

Ms Gallagher, who is the first nurse to give evidence at the inquiry, added that PPE often didn’t fit NHS staff and there was insufficient stockpiling of it in hospital and community settings.

The lack of PPE, combined with a shortage of 50,000 nurses, meant nursing staff were putting their own lives and the lives of their families and patients at risk when they went to work, she said.

‘The failure to consider a pathogen that had pandemic potential that would require the extended use of respiratory protective equipment was not duly considered, and it is my view that that had an effect on how large the stockpile was of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) as opposed to face masks,’ Ms Gallagher added.

‘I would have expected consideration of the need for cascade fit testing to be in place as part of pandemic preparedness. It’s now clear that those systems for cascade fit testing and for having standardised RPE were not in place.’

Rose Gallagher says there was insufficient stockpiling of PPE. Picture: iStock

RCN was not consulted during pandemic planning

Ms Gallagher told the hearing that the RCN had raised concerns that other organisms [other than influenza] had pandemic potential, following the college’s work tackling Ebola in West Africa, and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Saudi Arabia.

But she confirmed to the inquiry hearing that the college was not invited to consult as a stakeholder in pandemic planning, despite professional nursing organisations representing the largest profession in all care sectors requiring and using PPE.

Government ‘failed to act on lessons learned’

Ms Gallagher also said the shortage of 50,000 nurses going into the pandemic left the UK vulnerable as there was no surge capacity for such an incident.

‘The resilience of the health and care workforce is absolutely essential in order to be able to deliver healthcare services that meet the public’s needs,’ she added.

‘We know that we went into the pandemic with a significant shortage. That immediately put us at risk when we needed to surge capacity to support patients at home and in hospital.

‘The government was planning for the wrong pandemic and focused too much on NHS hospitals, rather than including primary care and other care settings. They failed to act on lessons learned and warnings.’

Watch Rose Gallagher giving evidence

UK Covid-19 Inquiry Live Stream – 26 June

Read Rose Gallagher’s written evidence given before the inquiry hearing

Witness statement of Rose Gallagher

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