The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has revealed that 19 UK health workers have died after contracting coronavirus, amid further backlash over his request that NHS staff do not overuse protective equipment.
Hancock said on Saturday he was unaware of any link between the deaths and a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) but an investigation would be carried out into the extent to which health workers had caught the virus on the frontline.
He told Sky News his “heart goes out to their families” and it was “heart-rending” that such a high proportion of the victims were people who migrated to the UK to work for the NHS.
On Friday Hancock urged the public to “treat PPE as the precious resource it is” following weeks of criticism over the lack of vital equipment.
Dr Rinesh Parmar, chair of grassroots union the Doctors’ Association, said it was “unfathomable” that the health secretary was “deflecting the blame at dedicated frontline workers for the shortages of [PPE]”.
“At a time when healthcare workers are also dying from the virus, we’re now seeing blame shifting on to NHS staff who put their lives on the line day after day,” he added. “Guidelines remain conflicting and NHS staff simply want to protect themselves, their patients, colleagues and family members – this is not too great an ask.”
[DAUK] claims that official guidance as to what level of protective equipment doctors should wear while resuscitating Covid-19 patients contradicts that of leading medical organisations.
The Resuscitation Council UK considers chest compressions to be an “aerosol generating procedure” (AGP) and recommends all team members wear a certain level of protective equipment before entering a room where it is being carried out.
This recommendation is based upon evidence from around the world and in conjunction with the European Resuscitation Council and the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation, the association said.
Public Health England guidance, on the other hand, does not consider the same procedure to be an AGP. First responders can commence chest compressions without that same level of equipment, “while awaiting the arrival of other clinicians to undertake airway manoeuvres,” according to its guidance.