NHS frontline staff must have protective equipment and priority testing without delay, says BMA

By agency reporter
March 20, 2020

The British Medical Association (BMA) says all frontline NHS staff treating patients with, or suspected to have Covid-19, must have a reliable supply of the proper protective equipment.

The Association says employers have a legal, moral and ethical responsibility to protect staff and to make sure that enough reliable masks, gowns, goggles and gloves are available.

This call comes on the back of the doctors’ trade union being told that some doctors have gone to DIY stores, in desperation, to buy masks, because none are available where they work. Others have had to ask at building sites.

The BMA has heard from many of its members that they do not have either the right protective equipment, or if they do, it’s in very short supply.

Both GPs and hospital doctors have told the BMA they feel they are putting themselves at risk treating patients because there isn’t any protective equipment available for them to wear. 

Some staff also have not had the opportunity to have masks test-fitted ahead of treating patients. The fitting is crucial for the masks to provide protection.  

In addition, the BMA says the testing of all healthcare workers and their immediate household members needs to get underway immediately. 

This will stop more and more staff sitting at home, self-isolating, not knowing whether they have the virus and not being able to provide much-needed patient care. 

Doctors are frustrated by the lack of testing for the virus; they are self-isolating in line with current guidelines but are often either perfectly well or if they do feel unwell, they have no way of knowing if they have the virus and need to stay off-work.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA Chair of Council said: “There are limits to the risks to which doctors, indeed all healthcare workers, can reasonably be expected to expose themselves to. 

“Frontline staff must have the proper personal protective equipment if they are treating patients with COVID-19 or suspected to have COVID-19. We are hearing of staff trying to buy masks from DIY stores in desperation because they are not being provided with it by their employers. This is totally unacceptable; healthcare workers should not, and do not, have to expose themselves to high risk situations without having adequate personal protection equipment (PPE).

“The Government must find a reliable way to substantially increase the production and distribution of PPE. If any healthcare worker, treating someone with Covid-19 was to become ill, or worse, due to a lack of PPE, the consequences will be dire and the impact on patient care catastrophic.

“As well as the correct PPE, it’s imperative that healthcare workers who are self-isolating, or suspect they may have the virus, are tested without further delay. The NHS will struggle even more if increasing numbers of staff are forced to remain at home for up to two weeks, not knowing whether they have the virus and therefore not able to care for patients.

“Rapid and effective testing shows that they don’t have Covid-19 and don’t present a risk to their patients and so can return to work as soon as possible. This in turn helps create greater resilience in the workforce for what is going to be an incredibly stressful time ahead.”

Specialist PPE called FFP3 is required by clinicians who are involved in Aerosol Generating Procedures. (AGPS) It needs to be fitted and then tested by clinicians on an individual basis before treating patients.  Respiratory protection masks come in three respirator ratings: FFP1, FFP2, and FFP3 - FFP stands for 'Filtering Face Piece' and the number denotes the level of protection. Staff also require gowns and gloves as well as eye protection.

* British Medical Association https://www.bma.org.uk/


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