Socialist Worker

Public health document is ‘an insult to the lives of frontline workers’

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2700

Some NHS are being forced to use last resort measures

Some NHS workers could be forced to use 'last resort measures' (Pic: Michael Swan/flickr)


Health workers could be forced to reuse protective clothing as a “last resort”, according to a document from Public Health England (PHE).

The leak shows up Tory health secretary Matt Hancock’s lie that NHS workers overusing kit was to blame for shortages.

Public health officials drafted the document to suggest “last resort alternatives” to “acute supply shortages” of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). It says that “given the current in-country stock and the reduced ability to re-supply, we are suggesting that these are implemented until confirmation of adequate re-supply is in place”. 

Measures in the document, dated 13 April, include disinfecting face masks and using washable laboratory coats and patient gowns where there are no available disposable gowns or coveralls. They could also see hospitals buy “building” or “sportswear” equipment to use instead of goggles or face shields. 

On Wednesday evening Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson confirmed that rules could be relaxed to allow some PPE items to be reused 

One nurse in South Essex—who has experienced shortages of protective kit—says the document was “an insult to the lives of frontline workers”. “Yet again it highlights this government’s total lack of planning and demonstrates no regard for people they like to call ‘heroes’ at daily briefings,” she told Socialist Worker.

“This is 2020, not 1820, and our government is asking us to reuse PPE despite reassuring us that there is enough of it."

“The death rate is rising on a daily basis and we could see huge infection control issues for both staff and patients. 

She added, “It’s not just a case of there not being enough PPE, it’s about there not being the right sort.

“More research shows that the surgical masks are not effective—and now they even want us to reuse the crap equipment.”

Some NHS staff are already being forced to use these “last resort measures”. One health worker in South Yorkshire told Socialist Worker, “It's definitely bad advice and shocking to see in an official document. 

“But its something that’s already happening in practice. 

“I know of one home carer who had to visit eight people twice and has one uniform and one set of PPE. She had to go house to house with the same uniform and kit and then do a second round. 

“She was told she would have to buy a second uniform, which meant she had to do the rounds in her own clothes the next day because it wasn’t dry.” 

The NHS was left underprepared by years of Tory cuts and privatisation. 

The Health Worker Coronavirus Activists Group plans to hold a day of action to demand health before profit on Thursday. It has called on supporters to raise slogans for proper PPE and mass testing in a range of workplace actions throughout the day. 


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