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PPE: nurses went into pandemic with a week’s worth of protection

Report confirms nurses were right to be worried about PPE shortages as audit reveals health and social care system’s lack of COVID-19 pandemic preparedness
NHS procurement warehouse containing PPE stocks during COVID-19 pandemic

Report confirms nurses were right to be worried about PPE shortages as audit reveals health and social care system’s lack of COVID-19 pandemic preparedness

Nursing and other healthcare staff only had access to a week’s worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of the pandemic, a report has revealed.

The RCN said nurses should never be allowed to face such risk again.

An audit office report found there was a limited supply of PPE across all healthcare settings in Northern Ireland when the pandemic began in March 2020.

‘The situation nursing staff across all sectors found themselves in at the beginning of the pandemic must never be allowed to

Report confirms nurses were right to be worried about PPE shortages as audit reveals health and social care system’s lack of COVID-19 pandemic preparedness

An NHS warehouse, where staff handled the huge increase in PPE purchasing Picture: Alamy

Nursing and other healthcare staff only had access to a week’s worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of the pandemic, a report has revealed.

The RCN said nurses should never be allowed to face such risk again.

An audit office report found there was a limited supply of PPE across all healthcare settings in Northern Ireland when the pandemic began in March 2020.

‘The situation nursing staff across all sectors found themselves in at the beginning of the pandemic must never be allowed to happen again’

Rita Devlin, director of RCN Northern Ireland

The health and social care system in Northern Ireland had 16 million PPE items in storage in March 2020, an amount auditor general Kieran Donnelly said equated to just one week’s supply of aprons, and less than that for all other items apart from gloves.

By July 2020, stock had expanded to 132 million items, and by May 2021, that figure had risen to 498 million as demand soared.

Around £400 million worth of PPE was bought between January 2020 and April 2021, in contrast to the pre-pandemic figure of £3 million, in 2019. Despite this, the auditor general said he found clear evidence of PPE shortages in April 2020, largely as a result of supply problems.

PPE training for nursing staff

The audit report said staff lacked training in how to wear PPE. It cited an RCN member survey of April 2020 that found 37% of respondents had not had training on what PPE to wear, while 42% said they had not had training on donning, doffing or disposal.

By May 2020, an RCN members survey found a UK-wide boost in training in how to wear PPE, but one third of respondents still said they had not received training.

Source: Northern Ireland Audit Office

Nurses should never have been put in this position

RCN Northern Ireland director Rita Devlin said the findings provided ‘graphic confirmation’ of nurses’ concerns about PPE shortages at the start of the pandemic.

‘Nursing staff should never have been put in the position where, to do their job, they were placing themselves and their families at risk,’ she said.

‘The situation that nursing staff across all sectors found themselves in at the beginning of the pandemic must never be allowed to happen again.’

‘Improvements in PPE procurement’

The Northern Ireland Department of Health said improvements had been made over the past two years, including the sourcing of up to 71 weeks’ supply of PPE by July 2021 against a target of 12 weeks’ supply.


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