PPE supplies including 400,000 gowns to be shipped to front line

Surgeons are being advised “not to risk their health” by working without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) amid fears that hospitals could run out of supplies.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) said it was “deeply disturbed” that medics could be asked to reuse items or wear different kit when treating Covid-19 patients.

Healthcare staff treating positive patients have been given guidance that they should wear long-sleeved disposable fluid-repellent gowns but, because of shortages, they have just been advised they could be asked to reuse PPE or wear aprons.

The fear from medics comes as more than 15,000 patients have now died in hospital after testing positive for the disease in the UK, with thousands more deaths expected in care homes.

Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, told a Downing Street briefing that it was “absolutely critical above everything else” that supplies were delivered to the front line so the guidance on on wearing gowns could be followed.

“I know Government is working incredibly hard to get those procurements in as you have heard,” he said on Saturday.

“But what I hear from my clinical colleagues is that what they need is PPE delivered to the front line to follow the guidance that was agreed with them two weeks ago.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said a consignment of 84 tonnes of PPE was due to arrive in the UK from Turkey on Sunday.

He said this shipment included 400,000 gowns – the supply of which NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, said on Saturday was now “critical”.

“Supply in some areas, particularly gowns and certain types of masks and aprons, is in short supply at the moment, and that must be an extremely anxious time for people working on the front line,” Mr Jenrick said,

“But they should be assured that we are doing everything we can to correct this issue, and to get them the equipment that they need.”

Robert Jenrick said a consignment of PPE was arriving on Sunday (Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street)
Robert Jenrick said a consignment of PPE was arriving on Sunday (Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street)

The guidance from Public Health England says that long-sleeved disposable fluid repellent gowns should be worn when treating Covid-19 patients.

If the gowns are not available, clinical staff have now been advised by the Department of Health to wear “disposable, non-fluid repellent gowns or coveralls” or “washable surgical gowns”, with aprons, and to wash their forearms afterwards.

It also says that staff should consider reusing PPE where necessary if supplies are low.

Professor Neil Mortensen, president-elect of the RCS, said the latest advice implied that surgeons may not require adequate PPE, which he called “simply unacceptable”.

He echoed advice from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) that says nurses should refuse to treat patients “as a last resort” if they are not provided with adequate equipment.

NEW: Today's statement on the latest @PHE_uk#PPE guidance. We are calling on government to ensure that the depleted PPE supplies that remain, are used to maintain the most urgent and emergency services, Read in full: https://t.co/ngj72XzJn9@mortensen_neilpic.twitter.com/YDVTiCBkFg

— RCollege of Surgeons (@RCSnews) April 18, 2020

“If fluid repellent gowns or coveralls are not available, then surgeons should not risk their health,” Prof Mortensen said in a statement.


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– 99-year-old Captain Tom Moore has been invited to be guest of honour at the opening of the new Nightingale Hospital in Harrogate next week.

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– Tributes have been paid to a British Transport Police detective, a member of police staff in Manchester and a North West Ambulance Service paramedic, who have all died after contracting Covid-19.

– The Foreign Office announced four charter flights from Bangladesh to the UK, repatriating up to 850 Britons.

A total of 15,464 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Friday, the Department of Health said. This is up by 888 from 14,576 the day before.

The Government has been under fire for weeks over the distribution of PPE, with some frontline staff warning that they have had to work in situations where they feel unsafe.

At least 50 NHS workers have now died after contracting coronavirus.

A British Medical Association (BMA) survey of more than 6,000 doctors across the country said a significant amount of them remain without the protection they need to guard against Covid-19.

It echoed another survey of 14,000 medical staff by the RCN, which found half of nurses have felt pressure to work without appropriate protective equipment during the crisis.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers – which represents hospital trusts, said on Saturday that the supply of clinical gowns was critical, calling it an “extremely worrying situation”.

“The absolute priority is for frontline staff to be able to feel safe and have access to the best possible PPE available,” she said in a statement.

“Trust and national leaders have been working around the clock to secure supplies of gowns, but the stock is just not yet available in the quantities needed.”

She said the new guidance on PPE usage to manage the shortage is endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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