Hundreds of doctors have reported having to go without masks, eye protection and gowns in the last week, according to data seen by the Guardian.
Doctors short of protective kit include those carrying out high-risk “aerosol-generating procedures” with coronavirus patients.
The findings are drawn from research by the Doctors’ Association UK, which has launched an app allowing doctors to report shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) in their workplace.
Since it was launched a fortnight ago, 1,598 doctors have signed up from 257 NHS trusts and practices, and 1,095 have reported problems.
The Guardian has recorded 81 deaths of healthcare workers reported in the news, but the true figure is likely to be higher. On Monday, Nursing Notes, a platform run by nurses for others in the profession, said it was aware of 100 deaths of NHS staff and social care workers.
The figures on PPE shortages do not necessarily imply that the same proportion of doctors as a whole are experiencing problems, since those facing an issue may be more likely to make a report.
Of the doctors reporting problems via the app, 766 said they had no access to the higher-grade FFP3 masks. Some 416 doctors without access to these masks were involved in aerosol-generating procedures such as suctioning Covid-19 patients in ICUs.
Gowns have been a particular problem, with 821 doctors reporting not being able to access one. For aerosol-generating procedures the number was 514.
While the gown and mask situation has deteriorated since the system was launched on 2 April, the availability of eye protection has improved slightly, with 416 doctors reporting no access to eye protection, including 252 doctors involved with aerosol-generating procedures.
Doctors are able to provide comments when they submit their data via the app. One said: “We’re running short of gowns, visors and masks and we have been asked to reuse single use masks and visors unless visibly contaminated with blood or vomit.”
Dr Jenny Vaughan, of the Doctors Association, said: “We are concerned about the real disconnect between the government and the daily experiences of frontline staff who have been reporting their PPE status in droves via our NHSppe.com. Doctors are risking their lives on the frontline and deserve nothing less than the correct levels of PPE.
“A more sustainable solution will need to be found in the coming weeks and months to ensure a constant supply of PPE. The science behind any decontamination must be robust in order to keep frontline staff safe. Any evidence based decontamination process chosen should not and cannot offer inferior protection to frontline staff or cause degradation of equipment.”