Doc­tors and nurses in threat to quit over safety

• Con­cerns could un­der­mine huge NHS re­cruit­ment drive • Death toll in UK rises sharply as an­other 87 peo­ple lose their lives • No 10 un­der fire for giv­ing un­clear ad­vice as some still defy lock­down

The Guardian - - Front Page - Heather Stewart De­nis Camp­bell

A mas­sive NHS re­cruit­ment drive to help con­tain the coro­n­avirus pan­demic risks be­ing un­der­mined by the prospect of doc­tors quit­ting over fears of in­ad­e­quate pro­tec­tive equip­ment, ac­cord­ing to groups rep­re­sent­ing front­line staff.

The health sec­re­tary, Matt Han­cock, said yes­ter­day that 11,788 re­tired NHS staff had agreed to go back to work to help tackle the cri­sis – and an­nounced the cre­ation of a new 250,000-strong corps of “NHS vol­un­teer re­spon­ders”, who will be asked to take es­sen­tial sup­plies to the most vul­ner­a­ble who are be­ing “shielded” at home.

But as the cri­sis reaches what is ex­pected to be its most dan­ger­ous pe­riod, doc­tors’ and nurses’ groups say their mem­bers are still be­ing ex­pected to take un­ac­cept­able risks.

Dr Ri­nesh Par­mar, chair of The Doc­tors’ As­so­ci­a­tion UK, which rep­re­sents grass­roots medics, told the Guardian: “The longer this epi­demic goes on for, if doc­tors feel that there is a widespread lack of per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment [PPE], then some doc­tors may feel they have no choice but to give up the pro­fes­sion they love, be­cause they feel so aban­doned by not be­ing given the PPE that the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion rec­om­mends.

“That’s the travesty of this sit­u­a­tion – that the gov­ern­ment needs to pro­tect front­line health work­ers and in re­turn they will give 100%. But the gov­ern­ment hasn’t kept its side of the bar­gain with NHS staff by not hav­ing enough PPE avail­able to safe­guard the health of doc­tors and nurses.”

The Royal Col­lege of Nurs­ing, which rep­re­sents Bri­tain’s 400,000 nurses, also sig­nalled its deep un­ease with the se­ri­ous short­ages of PPE and made it clear that the is­sue could com­pel nurses to choose between their jobs and their safety. A spokesper­son for the RCN said: “Our pri­or­ity is to make sure nurs­ing staff in front­line care have the masks and equip­ment they need, but the gov­ern­ment and NHS must be able to of­fer rea­son­able pro­tec­tion and as­sur­ances to those who lend a hand in th­ese times.

“Nurs­ing staff should never be forced to choose between their safety and their liveli­hood – this equip­ment must des­per­ately reach the front­line.”

One doc­tor mes­saged Par­mar yes­ter­day to say: “I’ve got an im­muno­com­pro­mised hus­band. With­out PPE, I put him at risk ev­ery sin­gle day. If this is not sorted soon then I’m off.”

Amid grow­ing re­ports of NHS staff end­ing up in in­ten­sive care af­ter fall­ing ill with Covid-19, Par­mar dis­closed tes­ti­monies he had re­ceived from other doc­tors in the last 24 hours anx­ious about the short­ages of PPE.

One said: “With­out ad­e­quate PPE our work­force will be dec­i­mated. Who will then be left to look af­ter pa­tients?”

An­other said: “I feel to­tally aban­doned. We don’t have the pro­tec­tive equip­ment that we des­per­ately need and our chil­dren

are be­ing treated like or­phans and sent off to care camps.”

Han­cock promised yes­ter­day to “strain ev­ery sinew” to en­sure NHS staff had the equip­ment they needed. He ac­knowl­edged the prob­lem, say­ing many staff were ask­ing about it, and said more than 7m items of PPE had been shipped in the past 24 hours, and a helpline had been set up, which health­care work­ers could con­tact if they were miss­ing masks or other nec­es­sary equip­ment.

Staff across the NHS have voiced grow­ing alarm about widespread short­ages of PPE kit, es­pe­cially face­masks and vi­sors to pro­tect their mouths and eyes from droplets of wa­ter com­ing from the mouth or nose of a Covid-in­fected pa­tient. Or­gan­i­sa­tions rep­re­sent­ing hospi­tal doc­tors, nurses, paramedics, GPs and mid­wives have all voiced fears in re­cent days, prompt­ing min­is­ters and NHS bosses to call in the army to de­liver mil­lions of pieces of pro­tec­tive cloth­ing to hos­pi­tals in par­tic­u­lar.

The fresh con­cerns came as the death toll from the out­break in­creased sharply, with an­other 87 fa­tal­i­ties tak­ing the to­tal across the UK to 422.

Speak­ing less than 24 hours af­ter the prime min­is­ter ex­horted the pub­lic to “stay at home”, the health sec­re­tary un­der­lined the im­por­tance of obey­ing the lat­est dis­tanc­ing rules.

“No mat­ter how big we grow the NHS, un­less we slow the spread of the virus, then as we’ve seen, those num­bers will con­tinue to rise – and that’s why it’s so im­por­tant that ev­ery­body fol­lows the ad­vice and stays at home,” he said. “The more we fol­low the rules, the sooner we will stop the spread, and so ev­ery­body has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to fol­low those rules.”

He con­firmed that the NHS would open a new tem­po­rary hospi­tal next week – the NHS Nightin­gale hospi­tal, at Ex­CeL Lon­don, a con­fer­ence cen­tre in the Dock­lands that was the venue for Gor­don Brown’s G20 sum­mit at the height of the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

The hospi­tal will have two huge wards, each ca­pa­ble of hous­ing 2,000 peo­ple, and the mil­i­tary would help to set it up and run it, Han­cock said.

Peo­ple with un­der­ly­ing con­di­tions that might make them es­pe­cially sus­cep­ti­ble to the ef­fects of Covid-19 – up to 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple – have been sent let­ters this week urg­ing them to re­main in their homes for 12 weeks. Han­cock said he was look­ing for 250,000 vol­un­teers to sign up to de­liver food and medicines to them at home, take them to med­i­cal ap­point­ments and stay in touch with them by phone.

‘The more we fol­low the rules, the sooner we will stop the spread … ev­ery­body has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to fol­low those rules’

Matt Han­cock Health sec­re­tary

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DANIEL LEAL/OLIVAS/AFP/GETTY

▲ A para­medic at St Thomas’ hospi­tal in Lon­don. Med­i­cal staff say there is too lit­tle pro­tec­tive equip­ment

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