Doctors are being “bullied and shamed” into treating patients with Covid-19 despite not having the masks, gowns and eyewear they need to protect themselves from the virus, frontline medics have said.
Others are being told to hold their breath to avoid getting infected because of persistent shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) .
The findings raise questions about how far a huge effort by NHS bosses, ministers and the military have succeeded in banishing previously widespread supply problems with PPE.
“Lack of personal protective equipment continues to be a critical issue. It is heartbreaking to hear that some staff have been told to simply ‘hold their breath’ due to lack of masks,” said Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, the president of the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK).
“Doctors are dying. Nurses are dying. We are devastated, and can no longer stand by and watch as more dedicated colleagues lose their life,” she said.
At least three NHS doctors, two nurses and one midwife have died already after contracting coronavirus.
The DAUK has begun collating anonymous reports from its network of frontline medics about continuing shortages of PPE, which has created confusion, alarm and fear among staff. It has developed an app with a firm called Messly to log shortages.
Based on 500 reports so far from 193 hospital trusts and GP practices, the DAUK says that:
72% of doctors cannot get hold of an FFP3 mask when they need one.
77% report shortages of long-sleeved gowns.
43% cannot always use a visor or goggles when they need them.
The findings also indicate that protective kit is still in short supply for doctors undertaking “aerosol generating procedures” on Covid-19 patients, such as intubating them, where potentially dangerous droplets are expelled from their mouths.
Almost half (49%) of medics performing such procedures cannot always access a gown, 42% an FFP3 mask and 20% proper eye protection, DAUK found.