Reused, homemade or non-existent: survey reveals ‘gut-wrenching’ shortages of PPE

RCN says nurses in all settings feel exposed and at risk due to inadequate COVID-19 supplies

Picture: iStock

One in two nurses across the UK have felt pressure to work with inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE), according to an RCN survey.

The survey, of about 14,000 nursing professionals across the UK, found that nurses are being asked to reuse PPE marked as ‘single use’ by manufacturers.

More than half of nurses surveyed said they had been asked to reuse PPE

A total of 51% of those treating possible or confirmed COVID-19 patients in high-risk areas said they are being asked to reuse items of PPE.

Of those treating patients with COVID-19 elsewhere, more than a third (39%) said they were being asked to reuse protective equipment.

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The survey, undertaken over the Easter weekend, also revealed that one in ten nurses are relying on PPE they have bought themselves or that is homemade.

The findings echo those of a Nursing Standard survey earlier this month, which found that more than two thirds (67%) of 3,500 UK nurses did not have access to sufficient PPE.

Dame Donna Kinnair at the 17 April Health and Social Care Committee meeting

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘These figures unmask the gut-wrenching shortages nursing staff are dealing with in all healthcare settings. It is little wonder they are in such fear for their own safety and that of their patients.

‘This crisis is taking the lives of nursing staff, and their colleagues feel they’ve been left exposed.’

She called for all decision-makers involved to ‘get a grip on the situation’.

PPE issues raised at Health and Social Care Committee meeting

Professor Kinnair also highlighted PPE during a virtual session of the Health and Social Care Committee chaired by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt on 17 April.

She responded to calls for relatives to be given PPE so they can see family members who are ill with COVID-19.

‘I am worried we don’t have enough PPE for staff, let alone to give to relatives to be able to see their loved ones during end of life care,’ she said.

Matt Hancock: ‘Gowns are a pressure point’

During the session, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said the government had provided 1 billion items of PPE across the UK, but acknowledged gowns were a pressure point.

Resuscitation Council UK reiterates guidance on PPE

In a separate development, the Resuscitation Council UK (RCUK) has announced it is sticking by its original guidance that nurses must wear high levels of PPE when attempting cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on patients who have, or are suspected of having, COVID-19.

It follows conflicting advice from Public Health England (PHE), which in contrast to the RCUK advised that CPR was not an aerosol-generating procedure and therefore did not require the strictest levels of PPE.

In a statement, RCUK said discussions with PHE had strengthened its belief in its own recommendations.

Other COVID-19 news 

  • The Florence Nightingale Musuem has asked for support through donations or by buying a ticket for future use. Museum director David Green said it is facing ‘unsustainable’ costs of about £20,000 per month and struggling for revenue while it remains closed during the lockdown. A GoFundMe page has been set up for donations
  • The Nursing and Midwifery Council said more than 10,000 nurses, midwives and overseas registrants have joined the regulator’s emergency register to help tackle the pandemic
  • Video-sharing app TikTok donated £5 million to the RCN Foundation, after a spike in the number of TikTok videos being created by and for front-line healthcare workers


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