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Coronavirus: Belfast GPs may be forced to withdraw services over lack of PPE, warns federations


Personal protection equipment for NHS frontline workers

Personal protection equipment for NHS frontline workers

Personal protection equipment for NHS frontline workers

GPs in Belfast may be forced to withdraw services during the coronavirus pandemic due to a lack of personal protective equipment.

Chairs of the north and west GP federations have written to the Department of Health saying there is a shortage of PPE, particularly masks and aprons.

The federations, who represent 40 practices and more than 220,000 patients, said the lack of PPE was putting both healthcare staff and patients at risk.

Last week it was reported the NI Executive had ordered £170m of PPE from a Chinese firm.

Dr George O'Neill, who chairs the west Belfast federation, told BBC NI that GPs were "scared and anxious".

"I have many GPs ringing me fearful not only for themselves but also their families whom they are returning home to. But also practice nurses who are particularly being placed at risk," he said.

"What is also worrying is that they all said they couldn't speak out as they were worried about their jobs. Now is not the time for that. That shouldn't be an issue.


Dr George O'Neill

Dr George O'Neill

Dr George O'Neill

"Nurses are having to dress patients who have leg ulcers, who require bloods being taken; they are constantly at risk as are patients as there aren't enough masks to go around."

The federations wrote to the Department of Health on April 8 expressing their concerns, but deliveries had still not arrived by April 11.

The BBC reports GPs in west of Northern Ireland, including those in Fermanagh, Enniskillen and Londonderry, have also warned about the lack of PPE.

A GP in Fermanagh said she was unable to run baby clinics as they did not have equipment for either staff or patients.

Dr O'Neill said he recognised there was a global shortage of PPE but questioned why the Executive has briefed that PPE had been ordered was being delivered when it had not.

"Clearly there was a lead-in time that was wasted, when more ordering and preparations could have been done," he said.

"I am not blaming anyone, this is not one person's fault but clearly this is serious. Questions will be asked when there is an inquiry into all of this later on.

"Now the priority must be accessing the right equipment at the right time in the right place."

Dr O'Neill said the Executive should appoint someone who would be responsible to oversee the delivery of equipment.

"At this stage what is in place is not working," he said.

"The equipment must be shared not only across hospitals, but especially to those working in community care, particularly care homes.

"I am deeply concerned about what I know is happening in care homes. Elderly residents are dying and the staff are there with them, beside them, caring for them with many not having the correct gear.

"We signed up to care for people but not to put our lives at risk."

In a statement released to the BBC Mr Swann said his department was working hard to ensure supplies of PPE are maintained.

"I know our GPs are working hard for all of us and that they are still delivering critical services to the community, despite the unprecedented challenges they face," he said.

"GPs continue to order and obtain PPE under the agreed processes.

"It is also why the primary care Covid-19 centres have been established in every trust, to preserve essential primary care services by reducing the pressure on general practice."

Mr Swann said his department was also "working hard to build up our PPE stockpiles for the expected second surge later in the year".

Belfast Telegraph