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Covid-19: Ministers attacked over PPE shortages

Hospitals are being forced into workarounds, including washing equipment and asking workers to accept wearing less protective gear.

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Paramedics and staff at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital wearing various items of PPE (Peter Byrne/PA)

Paramedics and staff at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital wearing various items of PPE (Peter Byrne/PA)

Paramedics and staff at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital wearing various items of PPE (Peter Byrne/PA)

Organisations representing hospital trusts have rounded on the Government over its promise of more personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect workers in the fight against Covid-19.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said there was “relatively low confidence” that a shipment of 400,000 surgical gowns which had been due to arrive in the UK from Turkey on Sunday would make its way into the country on Monday.

He said trusts are being forced into “hand-to-mouth” workarounds, including washing single-use gowns and restricting stocks to key areas.

The NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across healthcare, has also reacted angrily to Government promises of more PPE, saying delays on the shipment from Turkey “makes a difficult situation worse”.

Its chief executive, Niall Dickson, said: “It would have been better had the Government not made the announcement in the first place” and said staff would need to make their own assessment over whether they felt safe with the PPE currently on offer.

The Royal Air Force is on standby to bring the delayed shipment of medical gowns from Turkey to the UK following “some unexpected delays” over the weekend, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

Amid suggestions that health staff could refuse to treat patients if they were not properly protected, the spokesman said: “It’s our job as a Government to ensure that frontline healthcare staff are protected as much and as appropriately as possible and that they feel safe.

“We are working around the clock to ensure enough supply is reaching the front line.”

Mr Hopson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it was wrong to focus on individual consignments of PPE because “bitter experience over the last few weeks” has shown they cannot be relied upon, with some boxes containing the wrong items and thousands of pieces missing.

“So rather than being marched up to the top of the hill and being marched back down again, let’s just focus on what we know we can be certain of,” he said.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

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(PA Graphics)

“Let’s not focus on individual consignments, let’s try and get as quickly as possible to a sustainable supply of these gowns.

“There’s no doubt that at the moment, we have now got trusts that have definitely got shortages of gowns.”

Mr Hopson said trusts were reserving the stock of fluid-resistant gowns they do have for areas of high clinical risk, such as intensive care units, and using workarounds in other areas.

“There’s one trust that’s basically discovered that if you launder those gowns at 60 degrees … there’s probably up to three times that you can do that, and the gowns appear to still be fully fluid-repellent,” he said.

He said such as move is not “ideal” and is “really hand-to-mouth”.

While there had been many problems with consignments from abroad failing and the wrong items being sent, Mr Hopson said: “I suppose the question that we will need to ask whether this is over, is actually: was the pandemic stock reserve that was meant to tide us over, was it correctly configured?”

We are using a pinny essentially – a skimpy, plastic pinnyRachel Clarke

The NHS is thought to use around 150,000 gowns a day, meaning the stock from Turkey would last less than three days.

Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke said NHS workers and those in social care are being told to wear “skimpy little plastic aprons”.

She added: “They don’t cover your arms, and your neck and the top of your chest, they’re not covered either.

“That means you’re at an increased risk of catching coronavirus and – crucially – at increased risk of spreading it to your patients.

“We are using a pinny essentially – a skimpy, plastic pinny.”

This comes as:

– Professor Sarah Gilbert from the University of Oxford, who is leading a team developing a Covid-19 vaccine, said comments by the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, that all vaccines are “long shots” did not pour cold water over her work.

– Asked about Mr Johnson’s reported reluctance to end the lockdown soon, a Number 10 source told the PA news agency: “(The) PM is very concerned about a second peak if we lift the restrictions too soon.”

– Sir Richard Branson warned that the survival of airline Virgin Atlantic depends on it receiving a commercial loan from the Government.

– The Government has denied there are any plans for schools in England to reopen soon, with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson saying on Sunday there was no set date for pupils to go back.

– Downing Street said 21,626 people in England, Wales and Scotland were tested for coronavirus in the 24 hours up to 9am on Sunday, but overall capacity dipped from 38,000 to 36,000 due the implementation of new processes in commercial laboratories.

– The Duke of Edinburgh has made a rare public statement, praising those tackling the coronavirus pandemic across the UK and keeping essential services running. Philip, 98, who retired from public duties in 2017, said he also wanted to recognise the “vital and urgent” medical and scientific work taking place.

– A total of 16,509 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Sunday, the Department of Health said, up by 449 from 16,060 the day before.

– University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust has recorded the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths for any trust in England, at 600.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

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Meanwhile, the Government scheme for workers who have been furloughed – given a temporary leave of absence – has launched, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a £1.25 billion package to aid companies in the innovation sector.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme allows businesses to claim towards staff wages and comes after the Government was warned of the economic cost for many companies of any delay in its implementation.

Under the initiative, employers can go online to claim cash grants worth up to 80% of wages, capped at £2,500 a month per worker.

The Treasury has said the system can process up to 450,000 applications an hour with employers expected to receive the money within six working days of an application.

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