UK

Coronavirus: NHS staff protection 'short of WHO guidelines'

A drive through Coronavirus testing site Image copyright Getty Images

Frontline NHS staff risk "cross infecting everybody" because they are not getting the recommended protective equipment, a consultant has warned.

The face mask, short gloves and apron worn by NHS staff is far short of the World Health Organization recommendations, Dr Lisa Anderson of St George's Hospital, London, said.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the government to "sort this out".

The PM has said work was continuing to get more personal protective equipment.

Dr Anderson, a consultant cardiologist, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the current situation "can't continue".

She said that the government had changed the rules to deviate from WHO guidelines, which currently recommend health staff wear a full gown and visor.

Since Monday, staff in the NHS only have to wear a simple face mask, short gloves and a pinafore apron, Dr Anderson said.

Mr Hunt told the programme: "We are asking people to put their own lives at risk on the NHS frontline. We have seen the terrible scenes as to what is happening in Italy.

"It is absolutely heartbreaking when NHS frontline professionals don't have the equipment they need.

"I think the government has done a lot in the last week. I think they have unblocked the supply chains, but there is this question about whether it's the right equipment."

NHS staff told the BBC this week there was not enough protective gear and that not enough of them were being tested for the virus.

Mr Hunt said there were still "gaps on the frontline" and added that questions remained over whether doctors should wear full hazmat suits.

Dr Anderson said that in Italy, which has seen the highest number of deaths from the virus, health workers have run out of stock and that nearly 10% of the health care force is infected.

She questioned the risk posed by not enabling healthcare staff to sufficiently protect themselves.

"It's not just about the risk to ourselves and our family, we are travelling home on the Tube, on buses," Dr Anderson said.

Sainsbury's is expanding its reserved 08:00-09:00 slot for elderly, disabled and vulnerable customers to NHS and social care workers, after panic-buying this week led to shelves being cleared of produce.

But Dr Anderson warned of the health implications by such a move.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption A nurse tests Covid-19 procedures set-up at Antrim Area Hospital

"Sainsbury's this morning has announced that they are opening up the early hours to frail, elderly and NHS workers. We're cross infecting everybody at the moment," she said.

"There's a lack of protection for us, but it extends to a lack of planning of how to segregate patients from clean and dirty, how to protect us and keep us away from the public and doctors have no faith in what's going on."

Asked during Prime Minister's Questions about the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), Boris Johnson said: "Our NHS should feel that they are able to interact with patients with perfect security and protection.

"There is a massive effort going on, comparable to the effort to build enough ventilators, to ensure that we have adequate supplies of PPE equipment not just now, but throughout the outbreak."

The BBC has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for further comment.

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