A lack of protective equipment for nurses is “fundamentally compromising” the care they can give patients, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned.
Nurses’ safety is also being put at risk, the union warned.
Despite repeated assurances that more personal protective equipment (PPE) is on the way, the RCN said that the kit is not reaching the front line.
Nurses are still being forced to share equipment, buy their own or reuse kit, according to the RCN’s chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair.
Weâre demanding that nursing professionals in care homes, hospices and other community settings receive the PPE they need.https://t.co/yxaVggdafw— The RCN (@theRCN) April 1, 2020
In a letter to the parliamentary Health Committee chairman, and former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, Dame Donna said that nurses are being forced to choose between their sense of duty and the safety of themselves and their families.
“Nursing staff are at the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dame Donna wrote in the letter, dated April 6.
“Our safety and ability to care for patients is being fundamentally compromised by the lack of adequate and correct supplies of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) and the slow and small-scale roll out of Covid-19 testing.
“Our members are facing impossible decisions between their own or their family’s health and their sense of duty.
“The distribution and adequacy of PPE has led nursing staff to share equipment, buy their own supplies or to reuse single-use PPE. Although there are announcements that millions of pieces of PPE are being distributed, they aren’t reaching the front line across all health and care settings.”
Global shortages of PPE have led to shortfalls on the NHS front line as medics try to care for the rising tide of patients with Covid-19.
Officials have said that millions of pieces of kit have been distributed and a hotline has been established to help frontline staff get PPE where it is needed most.
But in a submission of evidence to the Health Committee’s Covid inquiry, the RCN added: “Actions to mitigate PPE distribution is regarded by our members to have been too slow and not transparent.
“Public commitments have not translated into increases in consistently deployed and accessible stocks of adequate PPE.
“Without adequate and proper PPE, nursing staff are putting their own lives, the lives of their families and patients, at risk. This situation is unconscionable.”
A lack of PPE and hand santisier is particularly acute for nurses in GP surgeries and care homes, the RCN added.
The RCN said that insufficient and inadequate PPE means health and care employers are breaching statutory obligations.
The union said it had written to the Health and Safety Executive calling for intervention.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are working around the clock to give the NHS and the wider social care sector the equipment and support they need to tackle this outbreak.
“Every single hospital, community pharmacy and ambulance trust has now had a PPE delivery. Yesterday we delivered over 30 million items of PPE to NHS Trusts in England, and over the last few weeks, over 600 million items of PPE have been delivered, including masks, gowns, aprons and gloves.
“The full weight of the Government is behind this effort and we continue to work closely with industry, social care providers, the NHS, NHS Supply Chain and the Army so all our NHS and care staff have the protection they deserve.”