Protective gowns and masks could be reused as stocks run low, document shows

Some elements of personal protective equipment (PPE) could be reused by NHS staff as a "last resort", a leaked Public Health England (PHE) document shows.

It states that protective masks and gowns could need to be cleaned and reused when stocks run low and admits there is currently a "reduced ability to re-supply" PPE, the BBC reported.

Some hospitals have already begun cleaning single-use gowns to preserve stocks, according to separate emails seen by the BBC.

It is understood that the chief medical officers and chief nurses of the four UK nations recently discussed the issue.

Following the meeting, a draft document written by PHE and dated April 13 suggested solutions for "acute supply shortages" of PPE.

"These are last-resort alternatives, but, 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", it said.

The plans suggested a series of "last-resort arrangements", including buying "building" or "sportswear" eye protection with extensions to cover the side of the eyes if there are no available goggles or face shields, and using washable laboratory coats and patient gowns where there are no available disposable gowns or coveralls.

It also suggests re-purposing face masks using various disinfection or sterilisation methods, including steam and UV disinfection.

The document said some of the last-resort measures would need to be reviewed and approved by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of vaporised hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate certain masks and respirators for use by staff.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), told the BBC: "This underlines the urgency with which we need this situation sorted.

"The Government must be honest about PPE supplies.

"If (Public Health England) is proposing the reuse of equipment, it needs to be demonstrably driven by science and the best evidence in keeping with international standards, rather than by availability, and with absolutely no compromise to the protection of healthcare workers."

In a statement, Dr Susan Hopkins, from PHE, said: "PPE is a precious resource and it is crucial that everyone in health and social care has access to the right protective equipment.

"All options are being considered to ensure this, including the safe reuse of items, but no decisions have been made."

An HSE spokesman said: "In line with the Government's PPE strategy, it is right that, where possible, strategies for optimising the supply of PPE should be explored.

"We are discussing with Public Health England ways in which pressure can be eased on the supply chain. This includes potentially reusing certain equipment where it is safe to do so."