Most medical staff say UK gov't failing to protect them: Poll

Amid the coronavirus epidemic, healthcare workers say action has been too weak and slow in addressing PPE concerns.

London, United Kingdom – Most healthcare workers in the United Kingdom believe the government has failed to protect them amid the coronavirus pandemic, a poll has found.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and YouGov surveyed 996 healthcare professionals across the country from April 2 to April 7, including doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals. 


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Three-quarters of respondents were concerned that the government was putting their health at risk, and a third report their physical health has deteriorated since the COVID-19 crisis began.

The findings were particularly stark in London, where 80 percent of health workers said the government had not done enough to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and test them to prevent the spread of infection in hospitals and care homes.

“London is very much ahead of the rest of the country in terms of disease progression,” IPPR research fellow Chris Thomas, one of the authors of the report, told Al Jazeera.

“It is a question of both distribution and supply [of PPE]. It is difficult to make sure that the right amount gets to the right place. There is an overarching question of supply, and how the global shortage of PPE is impacting how extensively it will have to be rationed,” he added, saying there was a severe shortage of gowns.

“The government must now do everything in their power to manufacture and distribute the right supplies to everyone working in health and care who needs them,” Thomas said.

Other severely-hit countries in Europe such as Italy and Spain have also suffered from a lack of protective equipment.

In Italy, more than 100 healthcare workers have died since the epidemic took hold there in late February.

In New York, where more than 10,000 people have died after testing positive for the virus, nurses and doctors reuse and recycle disposable equipment.

Dozens of doctors and nurses have died on the UK’s coronavirus front lines, and more than 12,000 people have died in hospital after testing positive for the virus.

But figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have shown that at least one in 10 COVID-19-related deaths takes place outside hospitals.

Hundreds have taken place in care homes, where PPE remains in short supply.

The UK government stepped up its PPE guidance at the beginning of April following criticism. The type of PPE staff are advised to wear depends on the level of contact with patients potentially infected.

“There have been some concerns raised about plastic aprons, particularly working outdoors. They do fly around and there is not so much protection,” said Richard Webber, a paramedic and spokesman at the College of Paramedics, adding the situation has improved over the past week with fewer complaints.

Earlier this month, the College of Paramedics said 20 to 30 percent of ambulance staff had been off sick or self-isolating. Tests are only carried out on those who exhibit symptoms.

Since the start of the outbreak, we’ve delivered over 923 million pieces of PPE to the front line and have published clear guidance setting out the safest levels of PPE to protect healthcare workers in different settings, in line with WHO advice,” a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Al Jazeera.

“We are also working closely with Public Health England to monitor the impact on care homes. We have now tested over 50,000 NHS staff or members of their household.”

But nurses and doctors argue these efforts are weak and have come too late.

“We knew this crisis was coming since December,” said Joan Pons Laplana, an intensive care nurse in Sheffield.

“The government did nothing for three months, and suddenly at the end of March everyone is running around to organise everything.”

Despite working in a high-risk unit, Laplana has not been tested.

“I could have the virus and be asymptomatic, I simply don’t know.”

Departments that do not deal directly with coronavirus patients have also been affected.

“About half of our staff is self-isolating and I took on the work of one of my colleagues that had to self-isolate due to a medical condition,” said a nurse in an oncology department in London, who wished to remain anonymous.

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