‘The NHS is not prepared’: Coronavirus doctor tells how staff must wear paper masks, plastic aprons and gloves instead of full protective gear despite the risks on ward where SEVEN doctor are already off sick
- EXCLUSIVE: Doctors on the frontline have been asked to wear wafer-thin masks
- Told not to use full protective gear unless patient has tested positive for virus
- Doctors are also off self-isolating at the Princess Alexandra hospital in Essex
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
A doctor on the frontline of Britain’s coronavirus outbreak has revealed how staff must wear wafer-thin paper masks, plastic aprons and gloves instead of full protective gear.
They had high-tech masks to cover the nose and mouth when the first suspected coronavirus patients arrived two weeks ago but, as supplies have depleted, they were switched to water-proof masks and, now, to paper masks.
Staff have been left exhausted and overstretched, with seven doctors off sick due to the virus. Extra nurses have also been drafted in including two with asthma and one with severe diabetes, conditions which put them at greater risk if they catch coronavirus.
Princess Alexandra hospital in Harlow, Essex, is grappling to contain the virus and currently has four patients in intensive care and at least nine patients that are suspected to be suffering from coronavirus.
A doctor on shift at Princess Alexandra hospital in Essex was given a paper face mask to wear
‘Imagine walking into a closed environment which is full of patients who have got this virus, suspected or confirmed,’ a doctor at the Essex hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, told MailOnline, ‘and (paper face mask, apron and gloves) is all we’ve got’.
‘When we started we had that FFP3 mask. We had to go and get tested to see if the mask fits our face because it provides excellent cover against aerosol and droplets and ways the virus can get in.
‘That was standard if you even come into contact with a suspected coronavirus patient. But that’s gone out now, for the paper masks.
‘The guidance is that unless you are in contact with a confirmed coronavirus and you work in intensive care you’re not supposed to wear the full protective equipment.
‘While you’re dealing with a suspected coronavirus patient no matter how ill they are you are supposed to have the mask, gloves and apron on. That’s it. So surgical masks, the masks you see on the street, are gone completely.’
Tests for coronavirus take between 24 to 48 hours to complete, according to Public Health England, leaving doctors exposed to likely cases before they are diagnosed.
The hospital has at least eight full-body protection kits, known as PPE, according to the doctor, but these can only be used when a patient is deteriorating rapidly and going into arrest in line with government guidance.
The hospital is suffering from staffing shortages, with seven doctors calling in sick due to coronavirus
‘It just doesn’t make any sense if you know that the patient you’re dealing with has pretty much obviously got symptoms then why are you not protecting staff pretty much as soon as they come in?’, the doctor said.
‘The ambulances bringing patients in they are pretty much in full gear and full equipment, they’ve got masks and everything.
‘They are bringing the patients into resuscitation area and we are just bringing that mask and apron. It’s not very good.’
A shocking picture of the doctor on the ward shows them wearing just a paper face mask as they attend to patients.
‘It’s just not right to put NHS staff at risk so if we just have enough equipment then we would be very very happy, and also the staff or the patients who come in they get reassured as well that we are treating them in a well and safe environment,’ they said.
‘We already know, people working in the NHS, that the NHS is not prepared.
‘We are looking after the emergency patients very well but what about our staff members and what about other patients who are being left alone in the community without enough care. It’s not very well organised.
‘For the management, this needs to be looked into.’
There are reportedly shortages of face masks across NHS trusts, and especially in the London area where the UK’s outbreak is concentrated.
It comes after NHS staff at Northwick Park Hospital were pictured wearing bin bags on their heads to protect themselves, due to alleged equipment shortages.
One nurse at the hospital urgently appealed for PPE kits, saying that they are all at risk of catching the virus.
‘We’re treating our own colleagues on the ward after they caught the virus from patients,’ she said. ‘How can that be right?’
NHS Supply Chain said yesterday it would ease restrictions on its PPE supply chain following a wave of criticism from overwhelmed trusts.
A spokesman told the Health Services Journal: ‘The demand management controls that were placed on some PPE products have been removed as of Thursday morning to simply the ordering process.
‘We are asking customers that the quantities they order of PPE products are in line with the guidance published by Public Health England. We will continue to monitor all orders to ensure that stocks are fairly managed for all of our customers.’
The UK has so far recorded more than 4,000 cases of coronavirus and 178 deaths due to the disease.
In Italy, at the epicentre of Europe’s outbreak, healthcare staff were left without adequate protection meaning at least 10 per cent were hospitalised.
Several Italian doctors have also died from the virus.
MailOnline has contacted Princess Alexandra hospital for comment.
Nurses are forced to wear BIN BAGS to protect themselves at major UK hospital that is first in UK to shut intensive care as it is overwhelmed by coronavirus
By Luke Andrews for MailOnline
Nurses have been pictured wearing clinical waste bags on their heads and feet at an NHS hospital that has been overwhelmed by coronavirus.
Northwick Park hospital, in Harrow, London, declared an emergency situation on Thursday after all of its critical care beds were filled with patients.
It took 24 hours for the hospital to stand down – after hurriedly transferring patients to nearby hospitals – but desperate nurses have issued an urgent plea for proper masks, gowns and gloves amid fears of an inadequate supply.
The hospital has reported six deaths due to COVID-19, and has dozens of patients in intensive care.
Nurses have been pictured wearing clinical waste bags on their heads at Northwick Park hospital, which declared an emergency on Thursday when it ran out of critical care beds
Nurses pictured wearing clinical waste bags on their heads at the hospital, prompting fears it may have an inadequate supply
Shocking photos of exhausted nurses wearing yellow-coloured waste bags on their head at Northwick hospital have been shared on social media.
‘We are so disheartened with what we face day by day, night by night,’ read the caption.
‘Improvising PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) to at least try to protect us from our infectious patients, buying our own wellington boots that is said to be re-imbursed. This is how our prime minister says that we are stockpiling PPEs!
‘We have to stay brave for our colleagues who are off sick, families and our patients. It just made us cry inside but we show brave and smiling faces to everyone.’
One nurse, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Telegraph they started using waste bags as they had ‘no choice’.
‘We could catch the virus ourselves,’ she said, ‘We need proper PPE kit now, or nurses and doctors are going to die. It’s as simple as that.
‘We’re treating our own colleagues on the ward after they caught the virus from patients. How can that be right?
‘There are so many younger people here on ventilation – many with asthma or diabetes. They can’t stop coughing, they just cough and cough and cough and they can’t help it.’
The nurse also said even her own family doesn’t want her to come home, in case she’s carrying coronavirus.
Northwick Park hospital, which was overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, is shown above
The hospital, which is run by London North West University Healthcare Trust, is expected to be overwhelmed again within hours.
Queen Elizabeth Hospital and University Hospital Lewisham, which are run by the same trust on the south-east side of the city, are reportedly unable to admit all critically ill patients to intensive care.
Dr Lisa Anderson, a consultant cardiologist at St George’s hospital in London, told BBC Radio 4 this morning that critical staff are not getting the protection they need.
‘The government changed the guidelines for protection equipment on Monday,’ she said, ‘and they’re no longer complaint with WHO recommendations’.
‘So whereas the WHO says you have to wear a full gown and a visor, we only have to wear a simple face mask, short gloves and a little pinafore apron when we’re dealing with patients up to 12 hours at a time.
‘The equipment has arrived but because they have changed the rules where you can only wear that equipment… patients are being treated without protection.’
She denied rumours that the NHS has run out of essential equipment.
To help units handle admissions, it is thought they may have to impose a clinical threshold of 60 years old for admissions in order to hold back da flood of patients.
The number of cases reported in London as of Friday, shown on the map above
London is at the epicentre of the UK’s spiralling outbreak and yesterday recorded 18 more deaths, taking its total to 69 out of more than 1,200 cases.
Many trusts around the capital are reportedly already at capacity or exceeding it, at a time when the outbreak is meant to have barely started.
Barnet, Lewisham and Greenwich, Epsom and St Helier, North Middlesex and Hillingdon, are all reportedly struggling.
A senior director at an unnamed London health trust has told the Health Service Journal that the situation is already ‘f****** petrifying’.
‘The thing people aren’t really talking about yet is that we are going to have to quickly agree some clinical thresholds for admissions to intensive care,’ he said, ‘This is what the Italians had to do, and whether it’s set at (a maximum age of) 60 or whatever, we are going to have to do something similar.
‘There’s no way we’re going to be able to scale up to the level we need otherwise.’
Lewisham and Greenwich hospital was reported to be turning away patients yesterday due to a lack of capacity, but a spokesman said this was untrue.
A spokesman for London North West University healthcare trust said: ‘We can continue to provide our staff with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment, in line with national guidance from Public Health England.
‘We are frequently writing to our staff to remind them what protective equipment they should be weareing and how they can access it, and will be issuing a reminder to ensure that all our teams have the most up to date information.’
Public Health England does not advise nurses to wear foot covers to care for patients with COVID-19.
NHS strikes massive deal with private hospitals for 20,000 extra staff, 8,000 beds and 1,200 ventilators in fight against coronavirus
By Milly Vincent for MailOnline
NHS England has struck a deal with the nation’s private hospitals to ensure more beds, ventilators and thousands of extra healthcare staff will be made urgently available from next week to aid the fight against coronavirus.
Nearly 20,000 fully qualified staff will be joining the NHS response to the pandemic, helping manage the expected surge in cases, in the first ever deal of its kind.
The extra resources, now secured by the health service, will not only be available to treat coronavirus patients, but will also help the NHS deliver other urgent operations and cancer treatments.
NHS England has struck a deal with the nation’s private hospitals to ensure more beds, ventilators and thousands of extra healthcare staff will be made urgently available from next week to aid the fight against coronavirus. Pictured: Boris Johnson in the cabinet room today
Up to 8,000 additional hospital beds and nearly 1200 more ventilators will be provided across England.
While 10,000 private sector nurses, 700 doctors and over 8,000 other clinical staff will rush to the aid of the currently nearing capacity NHS.
In London the deal will see over 2000 hospital beds, and over 250 operating theatres and critical beds made available.
The deal has been made with the UK independent hospital group, Spire Healthcare , who will assist NHS England from Monday 23 March, for a minimum period of 14 weeks, and then on a rolling one month’s basis.
Spire Healthcare will use the first week to prepare its colleagues and facilities for full use by the NHS, while it continues to treat NHS and private elective patients where appropriate.
Nearly 20,000 fully qualified staff will be joining the NHS response to the pandemic, helping manage the expected surge in cases, in the first ever deal of its kind. Pictured: NHS staff outside a hospital in London
From 30 March the group will make available the entire capacity of its 35 hospitals in England to the NHS.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: ‘We’re dealing with an unprecedented global health threat and are taking immediate and exceptional action to gear up.
‘The NHS is doing everything in its power to expand treatment capacity, and is working with partners right across the country to do so.
‘But it is absolutely vital that this is matched by successful and comprehensive adoption of the public measures needed to cut the spread of the virus.
The extra resources, now secured by the health service, will not only be available to treat coronavirus patients, but will also help the NHS deliver other urgent operations and cancer treatments. Pictured: A man wearing a mask walks past University College Hospital’s A&E department in London
‘We all have to play our part to help offset the enormous pressure that our nurses, doctors and other specialists will otherwise face.’
Matt Hancock, Health Secretary said: ‘I know how hard the NHS have been working to secure extra beds and staffing.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: ‘We’re dealing with an unprecedented global health threat and are taking immediate and exceptional action to gear up’
‘This is great news for the hospitals and staff doing everything they can to combat Coronavirus. I want to pay particular tribute to those heroes returning to front line to support their colleagues and help as many patients recover from the virus.’
On Tuesday NHS England announced that NHS Hospitals across the country are taking a range of action to prepare, including freeing up 30,000 of the overall 100,000 beds available by postponing non-urgent operations and providing care in the community for those who are fit to be discharged.
The NHS is also sourcing up to 10,000 beds in independent and community hospitals, 8,000 of which this deal now delivers.
Under the agreement, the independent sector will reallocate practically its entire national hospital capacity en bloc to the NHS.
It will be reimbursed, at cost – meaning no profit will be made for doing so. ‘Open book’ accounting and external auditors will verify the public funds being deployed.
David Hare, Chief Executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network said: ‘Independent hospitals are boosting emergency capacity to put at the disposal of the NHS over these coming weeks. We have worked hand-in-hand with the NHS for decades and will do whatever it takes to support the NHS in responding to this pandemic.
‘This significant additional capacity across the country will be a major boost to the NHS’s efforts to treat those patients that need hospital care over the coming period and the independent sector stands ready to maintain that support for as long as needed.’
Earlier this week, professional health bodies also wrote to 55,000 former doctors and nurses who have left the NHS in the last three years for them to re-join the workforce.
Today NHS staff spoke out over their ‘genuine fear’ as they are forced to buy their own protective equipment while fighting coronavirus.
Healthcare providers are also resorting to reusing disposable items due to a lack of supply.
The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) has prompted concern for the safety of doctors and nurses on the front line.
Former Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt joined calls for the Government to ‘sort this out’, adding: ‘We are asking people to put their own lives at risk on the NHS front line.
‘It is absolutely heart-breaking when NHS front-line professionals don’t have the equipment that 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 is the right equipment.
He spoke after Lisa Anderson, a consultant cardiologist at St George’s Hospital in London, said the Government had changed the rules so they were no longer compliant with World Health Organisation recommendations, which require medics to wear a full gown and visor.
She said that since Monday, staff in the NHS only had to wear a simple face mask, short gloves and a pinafore apron.
Current infection and death rates in the UK due to the COVID-19 outbreak
‘This is not just about the risk to ourselves and our families. We are travelling home on the Tube, on buses,’ she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
‘Sainsbury’s this morning has announced that they are opening up the early hours to the frail, elderly and NHS workers. We are cross-infecting everybody at the moment.
‘There is a lack of protection for us which extends to a lack of plan of how to segregate patients clean and dirty, how to protect us and keep us away from the public. Doctors have no faith in what is going on.’
Responding to the comments, Public Health England said its guidance was designed to ensure healthcare workers treating suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases are protected.
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