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Health workers feel 'actively discouraged' to protect themselves over PPE supply fears

Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Frontline health workers are concerned about the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) available to those treating coronavirus patients.

One GP told ITV Cymru Wales that she and her colleagues feel "forced to make decisions" based on the "availability of PPE" and not based on "clinical judgement".

1,000 healthcare workers have also signed an open letter to Welsh Government calling on them to take "urgent steps" to address a lack of PPE and "dangerous" shortage of hospital beds.

On Wednesday, the Welsh Government announced PPE from the pandemic stockpile was to be made available to those who need it. However, their official advice is to only use the equipment if dealing with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.

Specific gloves, aprons, face masks and visors are used to guard against the virus.

Dr Catrin Elis Williams, a GP in Bangor, said the current government advice about when to use the equipment seems out of date, leaving healthcare workers feeling "actively discouraged to protect" themselves.

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Some social care workers have also expressed concern over being able to adequately protect themselves in order to keep staffing levels at what they need to be.

Kevin Edwards runs two care homes in north Wales with more than 80 residents in total. He has to wait for equipment to first come from the government, through the local authority and then to his staff.

We need this PPE to protect staff because if they're at risk of contracting coronavirus, they won't be able to work, leaving us with no staff to staff the home.

And there is not a surplus of staff in our local community to do this work.

– Kevin Edwards
Mr Edwards says he is worried if his staff are not protected, they will fall ill and he will not have enough staff to adequately care for the residents. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Plaid Cymru said there is "inadequate guidance" on what equipment should be used in different situations, who will be given it and when they will receive it.

We know that there are serious challenges ahead of us so we need some honesty. We need that honesty to be communicated with people so they know exactly where they stand in terms of the equipment that they need and the safety of themselves and those around them and we need a very, very clear plan.

– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Health Minister
Vaughan Gething announced on Wednesday 25 March that more supplies of PPE would be made available to frontline health and social care workers. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

On Friday 20, an open letter was launched online calling on the Welsh Government to take "urgent steps" to protect NHS staff. The letter gathered 1000 names in six days.

The letter describes a lack of protective equipment for staff and a "dangerous shortage of Intensive Care Unit beds" and ventilators.

We are not currently being provided with proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to stop us being infected while we are working. We also have a dangerous shortage of Intensive Care Unit beds in Wales, as well as a lack of the ventilators that we need to treat the sick. As the crisis intensifies, the current shortages will become untenable for staff, patients and the NHS itself.

– Open letter to the Welsh Government

The letter received backing from trade unions TUC and Unison as well as Welsh actor Michael Sheen.

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Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, announced on Wednesday 25 March that more supplies of PPE would be made available to frontline health and social care workers. However, he did admit that the resupply timeframe for some of the equipment was "uncertain" due to the "global push" for it.

Mr Gething has also asked for a telephone hotline to be set up which can be used in an emergency if PPE supplies drop below what is needed.

The hotline will operate seven days a week but the Health Minister stressed that it "should not be needed."

The BMA Cymru Wales said that despite being told there is enough PPE, "the reality is that doctors on the frontline are experiencing shortages and many are extremely anxious over the adequacy of the equipment currently being provided."

BMA Cymru Wales is becoming increasingly concerned at the number of reports coming in from the frontline that staff are being told to ration supplies and see patients with little or no personal protection. Many GPs are opting to source their own PPE from DIY stores due to concerns regarding the reliability of what they have been sent.

We’ve heard from GPs who feel they are putting themselves at risk because the eye masks which have been delivered to surgeries do not cover their eyes appropriately.

– BMA’s Chair of Welsh Council
Healthcare staff are trained on how to work whilst using the protective gear. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

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