Almost half of Britain’s doctors have sourced their own personal protective equipment or relied on a donation when none was available through normal NHS channels, according to a survey.
The British Medical Association said that while PPE supplies have improved, their data from more than 16,000 doctors shows there is room for improvement in protecting healthcare workers on the frontline.
The organisation said its latest survey is the biggest one of frontline NHS staff during the coronavirus crisis.
It said almost a third (30%) of doctors in England who were questioned said they had not reported or spoken out about issues relating to PPE, staff shortages, testing or drug shortages because they did not think anything would be done about it if they did.
Asked how safely protected from coronavirus they felt at work, nearly two-thirds (65%) said they felt only partly or not at all protected. Overall, 48% of doctors reported having bought PPE directly for themselves or their department, or had a donation from a charity or local firm.
The problem appeared to be higher among GPs, with 55% of them saying they had to do so, compared to 38% of hospital doctors. More than a quarter (28%) of doctors said they were suffering depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or other mental health conditions related to or made worse by work during this time.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the survey response on PPE was “a damning indictment of the government’s abject failure to make sure healthcare workers across the country are being supplied with the life-saving kit they should be”.
Nagpaul said: “The survey shows that overall, there has been an improvement in the provision of PPE, but if almost half of all doctors report that they had to resort to purchasing PPE themselves or rely on donations, then there is still a lot for the Government to do to protect its frontline.”
Doctors responding to the survey were also given space to leave a comment.
One said the situation with PPE had been “an outrage for all staff”, another admitted to feeling “very unprotected”, and another said they were “coping” but added “it’s a worrying time on the frontline, no NHS eye protection and only flimsy aprons and cheap surgical masks”.
Nagpaul said: “The Government has five tests it has said must be met to ease lockdown, the first of which is ‘making sure the NHS can cope’. Six weeks into this crisis, how can the Government be confident that this condition is anywhere near being met, or that the pandemic is under control, when the very people on the frontline are not being made safe?”
Speaking at the Downing Street briefing on Thursday, Boris Johnson acknowledged the difficulties in getting sufficient PPE, but he said those responsible for tackling the problems were “throwing everything at it, heart and soul, night and day, to get it right”.