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NHS protective equipment crisis deepens, and workers pay the price

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Issue 2701
Proper equipment is vital
Proper equipment is vital (Pic: RCN)

Half of nursing staff have felt pressure to work without appropriate protective equipment during the coronavirus crisis, according to a survey by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

The analysis explodes the government’s claims that it has the situation under control. And it underlines the importance of actions like those by health staff this week over the lack of protection.

The survey was published just as NHS bosses were reported to have asked doctors and nurses to work without protective full-length gowns when treating Covid-19 patients, as hospitals came within hours of running out of supplies.

Nearly 14,000 nurses, midwives and nursing support workers responded to the survey by the RCN over the Easter bank holiday weekend.

It found that half of all respondents have felt pressure to care for a patient without the protection outlined in current PPE guidance.

This is the blackmail where workers feel they have to put the care of patients before their own safety.

One in eight nurses reported relying on face or eye protection that was homemade or that they had bought themselves, while only half believe they have an adequate supply of alcohol hand gel.

Respondents include those working in high-risk environments, such as where patients suspected of contracting Covid-19 are being treated on ventilators.

The RCN said that of those working in high-risk areas, around half reported being asked to re-use items of PPE that were marked as “single use” by manufacturers.

Of those treating Covid-19 patients elsewhere, over a third said this was the case.

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

The RCN said that of those working in high-risk areas, around half reported being asked to re-use items of PPE that were marked as “single use” by manufacturers.

The RCN has previously urged its members to refuse to treat patients as a “last resort” if adequate PPE could not be provided.

It said the results of the survey will be shared directly with associated government agencies and regulators, including the Health and Safety Executive.

Health workers protest for protective equipment
Health workers protest for protective equipment
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Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said, “This crisis is taking the lives of nursing staff, and their colleagues feel they’ve been left exposed.

“All decision makers involved here need to get an urgent grip on the situation.

“Nursing staff just want to do their jobs—they must be given protection in order to do so.”

Giving evidence to the Health and Social Care select committee on Friday, Dame Donna said that PPE continued to be an issue amongst frontline staff.

“As of this moment I am very worried that we don’t have enough PPE for staff to protect themselves, let alone facilitate giving it to relatives to be able to see their loved ones during the end of life care,” she told MPs.

Day of Action to Fight for Safe Workplaces: PPE Now! Tuesday 28 April – workers’ memorial day. Details here 

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