Coronavirus: Doctors forced to reuse PPE gowns and masks as COVID-19 stocks run out

Medical staff put on their personal protective equipment (PPE) at an MOT testing centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which is being used as a drive through testing location for Covid-19, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Medical staff put on their personal protective equipment at an MOT testing centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, that is being used as a drive-through location for testing for COVID-19. (PA)

NHS shortages during the coronavirus pandemic are forcing doctors to wash and reuse personal protective equipment (PPE) and dip their hands into buckets of steriliser instead of using hand gel.

According to the British Medical Association (BMA), NHS medics are being forced to work without proper equipment, with some using bin bags for protection, despite government assurances that PPE supplies have been sorted.

Some doctors have been told by their NHS trusts to reuse gowns, the BMA said, and some have donated their share of PPE to nurses and healthcare assistants.

It comes as a leaked Public Health England document revealed plans for PPE to be cleaned and reused by NHS staff as a “last resort”.

A woman holding up signs (PPE-Personal Protection Equipment) is photographed as she stands outside St Thomas' Hospital in central London as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in intensive care fighting the coronavirus in London, Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Johnson was admitted to St Thomas' hospital in central London on Sunday after his coronavirus symptoms persisted for 10 days. Having been in hospital for tests and observation, his doctors advised that he be admitted to intensive care on Monday evening. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
A woman holding up PPE signs stands outside St Thomas' Hospital in London, where Boris Johnson was treated for coronavirus. (AP)

It states the measures could be taken if stocks run low during the COVID-19 crisis and admits there is currently a "reduced ability to re-supply" PPE such as protective gowns and masks, the BBC reported.

It is understood that the chief medical officers and chief nurses of the four UK nations discussed the issue recently.

Following the meeting, a draft document written by Public Health England and dated 13 April suggested solutions for "acute supply shortages" of PPE.

"These are last-resort alternatives, but, given the current in-country stock and the reduced ability to re-supply, we are suggesting that these are implemented until confirmation of adequate re-supply is in place," it said.

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The plans suggested a series of "last-resort arrangements", including buying "building" or "sportswear" eye protection with extensions to cover the side of the eyes if there are no available goggles or face shields, and using washable laboratory coats and patient gowns where there are no available disposable gowns or coveralls.

The document also suggests repurposing face masks using various disinfection or sterilisation methods, including steam and UV disinfection.

Care minister Helen Whately said on Wednesday there has been a “global scramble for PPE” and distributing it to care providers and GPs has been a “massive logistical effort”.

She added: “It is a precious resource.

“We have to make sure it is used when you need it to either protect a member of the workforce or protect a patient, because people have been crying out wanting to use PPE all the time for everything and actually that is not the best way.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the BMA, told the BBC: "This underlines the urgency with which we need this situation sorted.

"The government must be honest about PPE supplies.

"If [Public Health England] is proposing the reuse of equipment, it needs to be demonstrably driven by science and the best evidence in keeping with international standards, rather than by availability, and with absolutely no compromise to the protection of healthcare workers.”

In a statement, Public Health England’s Dr Susan Hopkins said: "PPE is a precious resource and it is crucial that everyone in health and social care has access to the right protective equipment.

"All options are being considered to ensure this, including the safe reuse of items, but no decisions have been made."

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