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Ministers urged to ensure frontline NHS staff have right kit to fight Covid-19

One consultant has spoken of fears that health staff are ‘cross-infecting everybody at the moment’ because they do not have the right protection.


Some medics fear they are worsening the spread of Covid-19 in the public because they are not able to wear the right protective kit at work (PA)

Some medics fear they are worsening the spread of Covid-19 in the public because they are not able to wear the right protective kit at work (PA)

Some medics fear they are worsening the spread of Covid-19 in the public because they are not able to wear the right protective kit at work (PA)

Ministers are facing mounting pressure to give frontline NHS staff the protective equipment they need as they tackle the coronavirus crisis.

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 frontline 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.

“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.

Pub closing
Pubs across Britain are closing their doors as the nation battles the coronavirus pandemic (Nick Potts/PA)

“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.

Susan Hopkins, deputy director of the National Infection Service at PHE said: “The personal protective equipment recommended includes a fluid resistant surgical mask, single use disposable apron and gloves and eye protection if required. Higher level PPE is available where people are performing high risk procedures.”

The guidance recommends the same facemasks as WHO but the UK has long had a “bare below the elbows” uniform policy which it says allows optimum hand hygiene to take place, although full sleeve gowns are recommended for high risk procedures.

Boris Johnson ordered the closure of the hospitality and entertainment sectors from Saturday amid fears the NHS could be overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases.

With scientists warning “social distancing” measures will have to stay in place for months to come, tens of thousands of pubs, bars, restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs, gyms and betting shops were left wondering when they will be able to open their doors again.

The move came as a further 39 people in England were confirmed to have died after testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the UK death toll to 177.

Meanwhile, economists have said the bill for the Government’s scheme to cover most of the wages of workers whose jobs are under threat from the outbreak could run to billions of pounds a month.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned the cost of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s coronavirus job retention scheme is simply “unknowable”.

In a move previously unthinkable for a Conservative Government, Mr Sunak said employers would be able to apply to HM Revenue and Customs to cover 80% of the wages of staff they keep on up to £2,500 a month.

IFS director Paul Johnson said if the support is claimed for 10% of employees, it could cost the Government £10 billion over three months.

“The cost of the wage subsidy package is unknowable at present but will run into several billion pounds per month that it is in operation,” he said.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

“It is clearly a policy designed in haste and will require considerable speed and flexibility from HMRC to deliver. As a result there are obvious concerns about its design.”

The plan was, however, broadly welcomed by trade unions and employers as offering a vital lifeline amid growing fears of a major recession.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “As a sector employing nearly one million people, the Chancellor’s support package announced today on staff wages will safeguard thousands of livelihoods and help closed pubs try to get through this difficult period. We stand ready to work with the Government to ensure that the support is accessible as fast as possible.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said it was a “breakthrough” and praised the Chancellor for showing “real leadership”.

However, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Mr Sunak had not gone “far enough or fast enough”.

And the Government faced criticism that its plan to underwrite the wages of millions of workers did not cover freelancers, contractors and the self-employed.

Shopping queues
Large queues of shoppers outside a Sainsbury’s branch in Surrey as Britons continue the rush to buy food (Adam Davy/PA)

Treasury Chief Secretary Stephen Barclay has said providing protection for the incomes of the self-employed would be “operationally” difficult to deliver.

But he said they would benefit from measures such as the deferral of self-assessment tax requirements, the holidays for mortgage payers and the strengthening of the welfare “safety net”.

He added: “The main thing we have done is twofold: it is to support the economy as a whole, because the best thing for people who are self-employed as for all people is to sustain the economy and ensure that we can return with those viable businesses, and alongside that strengthen the safety net.

“So we have increased the allowance on Universal Credit, we have made it available from day one, we have removed the minimum income floor so if people who are self-employed are working less than 35 hours in a week they are not penalised within the benefits system.”

Pressed on Today over whether the Government would come forward with measures specifically for the self-employed, he said: “I come back to this underlying point about operationally what is difficult to do and what can be delivered to the timescales were are working to.”