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GPs and hospital doctors 'will die' without proper PPE, BMA warns

The UK is going to see doctors dying from treating patients with coronavirus (Covid-19) unless they have proper personal protective equipment (PPE), the BMA has warned.

Doctors becoming sick will also mean the infection spreading and the NHS workforce being depleted and unable to cope with the growing numbers of very ill patients, the doctors union added.

The BMA said its 'unambiguous warning' comes amid growing evidence that thousands of GPs and hospital staff still don't have sufficient PPE to protect themselves and their patients.

NHS England said on Monday this week that 'every GP practice' has now received a delivery of PPE.

But the BMA's members are reporting that gowns, masks, aprons and goggles are not getting through to the front line in sufficient numbers and therefore must be 'rationed'.

One doctor wrote: 'Coughed on by Covid patients all day today. No visors available…. tomorrow I’m borrowing my nine-year-old’s safety specs she got in a science party bag. I wish this was actually a joke.'

Another said: 'We have no testing or PPE on mental health units, and the environment was never designed to contain an epidemic.

'Given that asymptomatic people can spread the virus, within weeks 100% of patients and staff will be infected, and it will be just pot luck who survives.'

BMA Council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'A construction worker wouldn’t be allowed to work without a hard hat and proper boots. Even a bee-keeper wouldn’t inspect a hive without proper protective clothing.

'And yet this Government expects NHS staff to put themselves at risk of serious illness, or even death, by treating highly infectious Covid-19 patients without wearing proper protection. This is totally unacceptable.

'We are told that lorries are shipping hundreds of boxes of supplies of PPE to GPs and to hospitals but that isn’t the reality for thousands of our members.'

Dr Nagpaul, a GP in North London, added that the type of PPE supplied is 'not in keeping with WHO recommendations'.

He said: 'GPs in many parts of England have been told to go and buy their own stocks, only to find none is available. In Cumbria, GP practice staff went to Wickes to try and secure masks.'

Meanwhile, 'terrified' hospital doctors are telling BMA that they are 'risking their lives' in 'flimsy paper masks and plastic aprons', with some crying at the thought of bringing home the virus to their families.

Dr Nagpaul said: 'There are limits to the risks that doctors should expose themselves to and to go beyond those is not fair on themselves, their families or their patients...

'For GPs with patients who still need face to face care... they need to think carefully about the level of risk they are exposing themselves and other patients to if they give that care without protection.

'They risk making themselves ill and infecting other vulnerable patients and GPs should not have to make that choice because they don’t have the masks, gloves and gowns they should have.'

The BMA said this comes as international data shows healthcare workers are at high risk of becoming infected and dying from the virus.

Pulse warned over a month ago that GPs did not have access to PPE. The Government has admitted problems with supplies, which were made worse by a Chinese export ban on the products.

Dr Nagpaul called on the Government to 'be transparent about the level of supplies we really have, and how they can provide healthcare staff with the level of protection they need'.

'We know hundreds, if not thousands of doctors and frontline staff are risking their health and lives every hour of every day caring for Covid-19 patients and they should not have to do so without the right protection. 

'For their sakes and for the sake of the population at large, it has to stop. Every healthcare worker in every hospital or every GP surgery must have the PPE they desperately need and have it today,' he said.

The RCGP has also raised concerns about PPE provision, and has asked whether GPs should wear PPE for all consultations.

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Readers' comments (25)

  • Absolute disgrace. We have been asking for this and warning about the consequences about lack of PPE/inadequate PPE and testing for many weeks. Prince Charles has suspected Covid 19 and is immediately tested ‘for medical reasons’. I have been off work with the same and cannot get tested anywhere. Go figure ...

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  • Not good re PPE but we need to be working in different ways. You should not be being coughed on all day by patients with potential Coronavirus. The video of surgery in Watford on BBC really concerned me. We need to be using remote assessment wherever possible. There is guidance out there. I have developed a phone triage checklist I am using to ensure I ask all the right questions and can triage patients as effectively as is possible. Low risk need self isolation, medium risk need active telephone follow up and high risk/critical need ambulance. Scrap all routine non essential work and we need to support 111 with assessments of what will be cast numbers of patients in coming weeks. Patients with trivial issues need to be told this is a crisis ‘wartime’ situation and the rules are changing. Only contacts should be low risk patients with potentially serious non respiratory symptoms and for those wear PPE and have a ‘hot’ clinical area for F2F assessment either in surgery or at hub.

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  • People should not be put in a position where they have to choose between their lives and their jobs. NHSE is a disgrace. The PPEs are inadequate. Just seen the German and Russian doctors. Far better protected than us. The Asian countries test a lot.

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  • The UK is a disgrace.

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  • Cobblers

    Why now Dr Nagpaul 3 weeks or more too late? Where has the BMA been?

    Or is this more politically driven as you can all too clearly see the writing on the wall and you would wish to point out after the carnage that you did your bit in warning the government?

    Jeez I am so glad I've saved my BMA subs these last 30 years.

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  • The government knows there is no ppe. The UK has no manufacturing and is totally reliant on imports. These are going to the highest bidders and that in not the NHS.The government position is to keep calm and carry on despite the risk to NHS staff. The bigging up of NHS staff serves to cojole us into continuing care despite the risks. The ppe is not coming. Lots of patients are going to get infected and many will die. We are going to have to make hard choices in a few weeks and even now. Do we see asymptomatic possible covid patients with possible other urgent conditions without appropriate ppe putting ourselves and our families at risk or sign post them to a stretched secondary care where there might be a better chance of staff with appropriate ppe? If we do the latter,I am sure the GMC would be breathing down our neck very quickly stating we are neglecting our duty of care to patients like they did during the pensions strikes.

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  • Dear All,
    On Tuesday, as a GPC member i sent in a mail asking what happens when we need a new supply of PPE, I had lost the previously circulated contact details. I was re-sent some contact details. We contacted them. They said they were only ever tasked to provide the initial first dump and if we wanted more we should contact commercial suppliers and buy them directly. Other practices confirmed the same experience.
    I sent in a message to the GPC to say this was unacceptable. I was assured this would be taken to the highest level to sort out.
    At roughly 3pm yesterday Mr Hancock was on the web in a streamed press conference stating there were 7 million items of PPE and that front line staff would get them asap. There followed a TV News item showing an army lorry delivering boxes to St Thomas's. We were told by e-mail that a new revised re-supply service was being set up. This morning we asked for the contact details of this new revised re-supply service. We contacted them, same message, buy them yourselves.
    So thats two times in two days that the Secretary of State for Health, Mr Hancock, has lied to front line staff about provision of PPE, placing us in peril of our lives.
    We have under 200 masks left, let alone the face shields we have had to buy ourselves from B&Q and ToolStation.
    When we run out, which at current rates will be monday, we will close our doors to everyone.
    Thank you Mr Hancock.
    Paul Cundy
    GMC 2582641

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  • Well prepared Mr Hancock the only thing you are prepared to do is lie through your teeth.

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  • Vinci Ho

    (1) At this stage of the pandemic, it is a no brainer that we will not do face-to-face consultation without PPE(any form is better than nothing ). Hence , no PPE , no FTF. So is to apply to home visit .
    (2) Search and buy your own supply from abroad if you can find any way .GPC and RCGP should help colleagues to search these sources of supply . Of course , carry on putting pressure on the system but I think we all know what the reality is . This is no longer a time to be politically correct but to save ourselves together as a cohort . We will do the calculation for accountability AFTER on our government and its health secretary.
    (3) Testing all frontline health professionals must happen and this provides answer in various scenarios, for instance, a family member of a professional develops symptoms and he/she can be ‘cleared’ by the test , sent to a specific hotel , so as to carry on working on the frontline( instead of isolation at home for 14 days )

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