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.