Coronavirus medics have 'grave concerns' over PPE

PPEImage source, Getty Images

Medical professionals have written to the Scottish government to express "grave concerns" about the protective equipment they have been given.

The letter claims some front-line staff are risking their lives in the Covid-19 epidemic because they do not have suitable aprons, masks and eyewear.

The open letter has been signed by more than 100 medical professionals.

The Scottish government said the protection of healthcare workers was its highest priority.

It insisted that there were adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) in place, alongside new measures to ensure the right equipment reached the right locations "with the highest possible urgency".

And it said it was clear that appropriate eyewear protection must be provided in accordance with UK-wide guidance.

The government has also set up an email service for frontline professionals to raise concerns about PPE to ensure that any issues are dealt with as swiftly as possible.

The open letter from health workers, which was co-ordinated by Dr Shahzad Hanif, acknowledged that "some PPE has now been provided".

But it said many health care professionals have "grave concerns about the adequacy of what has been given."

The letter claimed that some health professionals have been issued with thin plastic aprons, surgical masks which have been shown only to be protective against large droplet spread but not to smaller droplets or anything airborne, and flimsy eye cover which does not provide enough protection.

It also highlighted concerns about the adequacy of PPE in palliative care, secondary care and in pharmacies.

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This is not about access to protective equipment.

These medics understand the enormous efforts going on to deliver supplies but they say the World Health Organisation advice is about the basic standard of PPE for every country in the world.

They agree the highest level of protective gear should be reserved for those treating the most acutely unwell patients but they are extremely worried the equipment they are receiving will not offer adequate protection to them and their patients.

They argue that a country like Scotland should be capable of rapidly scaling up production of more sophisticated masks and gowns.

It would provide reassurance to them, and to those whom they are caring for.

'Very little use'

Dr Hanif told The BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme the poor quality of the equipment being provided meant health care workers were constantly worrying about their own wellbeing.

He said the masks being issued were "fluid-resistant surgical masks", which are designed to stop wearers transmitting an infection.

But he said they were now being used for the opposite effect - to stop the wearer becoming infected with coronavirus - and were of "very little use".

Dr Hanif called on the government to deliver N95 masks, which are more tightly woven and could be made in Scotland.

"These are not complex pieces of equipment to produce. They're not technical pieces of equipment. They can be easily produced and we would ask and request that the government start doing this," he said.

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The open letter said coronavirus had generated "fear and anxiety" and this has only been compounded by grim reports from Italy and Spain, where a combined total of more than 30,000 people have died.

The medics highlighted the fact that health care workers have already died in the UK, and warned that the risk of becoming infected and passing infection between patients was "simply too great".

The Scottish Conservatives said the concerns raised in the letter must be treated with the "utmost seriousness" by the Scottish government.

The party's health spokesman, Miles Briggs, said: "We can't move to a situation where the overall supply of PPE is increased, which clearly must be the case, only for that equipment to fail to meet the safety standards needed.

"We need to hear urgently from the SNP government what specific steps it is taking to ensure that all PPE issued to health and social carer workers meets the internationally recognised standards set down by the World Health Organisation."

Meanwhile, in a separate open letter to the first minister, care workers have accused the Scottish government of gross negligence for "forcing us to work with insufficient PPE".

The letter, which was sent by the GMB Scotland union, stated that care workers were leaving their families to help those most in need.

It continued: "We will not let our clients down, but we are being let down by our employers and by government.

"We do not feel safe at work. By not giving us the PPE we need, and by not testing front-line workers, we are being forced to put not only ourselves but our family and our clients at risk.

"Some of our colleagues are sick and some will sadly die due to this gross negligence."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said the safety of health and social care workers was "paramount" and it would "continue to engage with Unison and other bodies on this issue".

"More than six million pieces of PPE have now been delivered to more than 1,000 locations, including care homes," she said.