In Brief

Anger grows as supplies of gowns ‘critically low’ in UK hospitals

Royal College of Nursing tells members they can refuse to treat patients without PPE

The number of protective gowns available to front-line staff has become “critically low” in recent days, an NHS boss has warned.

Speaking to the BBC, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers in England, called for a “more sustainable supply” of the vital garments.

He explained that the number of protective gowns available to NHS staff in some parts of the country was “very, very low” because some had failed safety tests, while other batches have been mislabelled.

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Hopson added: “If everything had been flowing exactly as had been ordered and if all of the material had properly passed its safety test, there would not be an issue.

“This is all really hand-to-mouth in terms of gown delivery, and we need to get to a more sustainable supply.”

Later, writing for The Guardian, he asked: “Was the UK as prepared as it should have been for coronavirus, including holding the appropriate levels of the right PPE equipment? It will be vital, when the time is right, to explore this question and learn lessons for the future.”

As it was announced that another 717 coronavirus patients have died in UK hospitals, taking the nationwide total to 11,329, the Royal College of Nursing has told nurses that they can refuse to treat patients if they are not given the right protective equipment. 

“There will be difficult decisions to be made by nursing staff whether to continue to provide care if it is not supplied,” said the body. 

Last week, senior NHS figures in London said they are “alarmed” and that the lack of gowns is “a disaster in waiting for staff health”.

As pressure grows on the government over the supply of personal protective equipment to healthcare staff, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, provoked a public outcry when he asked workers not to overuse the “precious resource”.

The question of adequate PPE supplies for medics has been an increasingly hot issue since last month following the deaths of the first British doctors from Covid-19.

“Doctors here will understandably be concerned when they see images in the media of their colleagues around the world treating patients in full overalls and full face protection, and asking why the same is not recommended or available here,” said Chaand Nagpaul, chairperson of the British Medical Association council.

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