NHS staff feel like ‘cannon fodder’ over lack of coronavirus protection | Society

Frontline NHS staff are not getting the protective equipment they need to treat coronavirus patients, leaving them feeling like “cannon fodder”, a grassroots doctors’ organisation has said.

Healthcare workers in hospitals have been voicing frustration and fear over the lack of personal protective equipment, saying they are having to substitute the correct gear with items that are less effective – or even improvise with non-medical materials.

Responding to staff concerns, Dr Rinesh Parmar, chair of the Doctors’ Association, told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show: “We have had doctors tell us they feel like lambs to the slaughter, that they feel like cannon fodder. GPs tell us that they feel absolutely abandoned.

“We are all pleading with Boris Johnson that [the government] really look into arranging the vital personal protection equipment that all of us need on the NHS frontline. What our doctors are telling us is that although equipment is arriving, some of it is inadequate, some of it doesn’t meet the World Health Organization guidance. That really doesn’t fill frontline healthcare staff with the confidence that they need.”

Nurses in the Royal Free hospital in north London have been affixing clinical waste bags around their legs, the Guardian has been told, while at North Middlesex hospital they have been tying plastic aprons around their heads.

One nurse, who did not wish to be named, said: “Widespread nurses are making their own PPE. I know friends I trained with doing the same. We have to protect ourselves, some of us have children and babies. We are trying to help people but have to protect families. I don’t know why we are not getting PPE.”

The lack of PPE raises the prospects of NHS staff falling ill – and potentially spreading Covid-19 – at a time of unprecedented demand, when attempts are being made to bolster the workforce.

But there are also concerns that existing staff members who are unwell are not getting sufficient support or being tested.

A nurse at a London trust said one of her colleagues was asking for help from her, having failed to get it elsewhere. “One of my colleagues was asking for help from me, to check if he can come to A&E,” she said. “The colleague’s temperature is spiking at 40.3C [104.6F] – before, it never went below 38.6 [101.4F]. They are taking paracetamol every four hours.

“We wanted them to go to A&E but the advice of 111 is not to go. We have said they have to come and be tested. This person is staff – why can they not get this? I am worried about them as they are having body pains and no one seems to care.

“Our colleagues in A&E said: ‘Come in and we will test you.’ Sometimes we have to save our colleagues.”

Jason Leitch, NHS national clinical director of healthcare quality and strategy, insisted there was sufficient supply of PPE but admitted distribution had been an issue.

He told BBC Breakfast on Sunday: “I know there is enough supply, the distribution has been challenging, because we’re adding in new places, we’re adding in care homes, we’re adding in community pharmacies. We’ve not had to do regular PPE transmission to those places before, so that is causing some individual challenges around the four UK countries.”

He said staff had to be trained in how to fit the high-end masks, adding: “I am confident that the beginning of that supply chain is robust and now the distribution will get better over the next few days.”

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