U.K. Doctors ‘Thrown to the Wolves’ as Protective Gear Runs Low

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The U.K. risks running out of protective equipment for its hospital staff as half the doctors working in high-risk areas reported supply shortages in a survey by the British Medical Association.

Long-sleeved disposable gowns and goggles are in low supply for NHS staff working at some of the most at-risk hospitals in the U.K., a report by the associationsaid. In a survey of 6,000 respondents, two-thirds said they faced shortages or no eye protection at all, and nearly half said they felt pressure often or sometimes to work without adequate protection.

Doctors told the association that they were being “thrown to the wolves” and should not be forced to choose between continuing working or keeping themselves and their family safe. The snapshot survey comes after reports that several NHS staff have lost their lives to the virus.

“Two months into the COVID-19 crisis in Britain, we shouldn’t still be hearing that doctors feel unprotected when they go to work,” BMA Council Chair Chaand Nagpaul said in a statement Saturday. “We renew our call for the Government to work with manufacturers to ramp up domestic supply. Too many doctors and healthcare staff have already lost their lives. We cannot afford to risk losing any more.”

The U.K. reported 888 new coronavirus deaths on Saturday, taking the total to more than 15,000. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.K. has exceeded 109,000. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration has faced a barrage of criticism over its response to the pandemic, including questions on a delay in lockdown, lack of widespread testing and on insufficient protective equipment for health-care professionals.

Health secretary Matt Hancock told the U.K.’s health committee Friday that the government was doing everything it could to get protective equipment to front-line workers in the NHS.

“I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and have PPE fall from the sky in large quantities and be able to answer your question about when shortages will be resolved,” he said. “But given that we have a global situation in which there is less PPE in the world than the world needs, obviously it’s going to be a huge pressure point.”

The U.K.’s largest trade union, which represents healthcare workers,warned that NHS staff could quit if the situation doesn’t change.

“Managers must be truly honest with health workers and their union reps over the weekend,” Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said. “If gowns run out, staff in high risk areas may well decide that it’s no longer safe for them to work.”

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