Medics at a hospital have warned they may need to limit services to a “bare minimum” amid concerns over a shortage of protective equipment for staff.
Staff at Southend Hospital in Essex claim to be “petrified” about the rationing of personal protective equipment (PPE), according to the BBC.
In a letter sent to management, staff have warned if the standard and availability of PPE is not improved by close of play on Wednesday, they will introduce “restricted services” in high-risk areas of the hospital, the broadcaster reported.
It comes as some leading trade unions warned the lack of PPE is a “crisis within a crisis”.
Global shortages of PPE have led to shortfalls on the NHS front line.
The Government has made assurances that millions of pieces of kit have been delivered across the country, and staff with concerns can call a national helpline.
But GP magazine Pulse reported that some who have called the hotline have been told to buy kit “through their usual suppliers”.
At least one GP practice has ordered face shields on Amazon in a bid to protect its staff when the regular supply chain failed.
On Monday, Gateshead Foundation NHS Trust issued a plea on social media asking for local businesses to donate protective equipment.
A front-line nurse described how colleagues at her hospital in Southmead, Bristol, are “in tears” due to the lack of adequate protective equipment.
The nurse, who spoke under condition of anonymity through fear of disciplinary action, told the PA news agency: “We’ve been given simple surgical masks that ordinarily would be worn for about 15 minutes at a time.
“Yet we are being told to wear them all shift. On Tuesday, that was over 12 hours.
“If we pick up anything from a patient, we are potentially carrying it around in our masks all day.
“It’s horrifying. The masks are a total placebo.
“We would be better off with nothing.”
The Government is due to update its PPE guidance later this week but NHS leaders have said this is “long overdue”.
Seven trade unions outlined how staff are being forced to risk their lives and face disciplinary action if they speak out.
Unison, the Royal College of Midwives, GMB, Unite, TUC, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the British Dietetic Association released a joint statement saying: “It is now clear that the lack of PPE for front-line workers has become a crisis within a crisis.
“Workers are being exposed to unreasonable and unnecessary risk by the ongoing failure to provide key workers with adequate PPE.
“Every day we hear from our members that despite repeated assurances from Government, people are being asked to work with inadequate or out of date protective equipment – and that is where PPE is being provided at all.
“Key workers deserve better. They are risking their own health and safety for us.
“We must be clear what that means. Those who are subject to prolonged and direct exposure to the virus – such as health and social care professionals – are risking their lives.”
They added that workers are being gagged against speaking out over concerns or face disciplinary action if they refuse to undertake activities without appropriate PPE.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said earlier: “I acknowledge that those on the front line have faced a very unsatisfactory situation in some cases where they haven’t had the specific supplies they need or the reassurance that they will be available in just a couple of days’ time because stocks were reducing in the healthcare setting in which they work.”
He said there is a “military operation” ongoing to move stocks around the country and national distribution companies are also being used to “get the stocks out in a more organised and sustainable way”.
He added: “But there are settings that I know of who have either not received the equipment that they need or who are concerned that their stocks are running low and our task is to get the materials out to those people now.”
In a statement, Southend Hospital told the BBC: “We are fully complying with the Public Health England guidance on the use of personal protective equipment which has been developed by expert clinicians and is being followed by the whole of the NHS.
“There are no issues whatsoever with the cost of equipment. It has been made clear that cost is not an issue in keeping our staff protected. What is important is that the supplies of PPE equipment across the NHS are used responsibly so there is enough to go round.”
Meanwhile, global construction equipment manufacturer JCB has donated 8,000 pairs of gloves and boxes of masks to a Staffordshire-based NHS hospitals trust, after a plea from a former employee.
The vital PPE has been shipped from the digger-builder’s Uttoxeter plant to the University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHNM) trust, which operates sites in Stoke and Stafford, JCB said.
Tata Steel’s Port Talbot plant in South Wales has also delivered a van load of masks, gloves, aprons and shoe covers to staff at Swansea Bay University Health Board.
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