Doctor’s plea for snorkelling mask exposes lack of coronavirus protection
PUBLISHED: 08:09 02 April 2020 | UPDATED: 09:26 02 April 2020
Norfolk doctors have slammed a lack of equipment to protect them in the fight against coronavirus, with one even asking friends to find a snorkelling mask to shield them.
Over the last month the government and local NHS bosses have repeatedly insisted they have enough protective equipment, known as PPE, to look after staff.
The government has also said it is increasing coronavirus testing for NHS workers, with 2,000 done so far, but that is yet to start in Norfolk.
On Tuesday cabinet minister Michael Gove admitted they needed to go “further, faster” and blamed a shortage of chemicals needed for the test.
A spokesman for Norfolk and Waveney’s NHS said staff testing would rapidly increase soon.
A doctor at a Norfolk hospital said protective equipment was so lacking that they had asked their friends if anyone had a spare diving mask they could use as a face protector.
The doctor, who blew the whistle to Norwich South MP Clive Lewis about the lack of PPE, also said they had asked a relative abroad to send them PPE as they did not have confidence in their hospital getting them the right type quickly enough.
“Today I added ‘write letters for the kids to open in the future in case I don’t make it’ to my to do list,” they said.
“I knew a career in medicine came with sacrifices but I didn’t consider a pandemic with no PPE.”
They added they would feel much more confident coming to work if they had been tested.
Mr Lewis compared the situation to the Samuel Beckett play, Waiting for Godot, where two characters wait for someone who never arrives.
“Government ministers and senior NHS managers keep saying there’s no problem,” he said. “So why are frontline health and care staff still contacting my office daily with terrifying and heartrending stories like these?
“We’re almost two months into this pandemic and I have a very simple question for Boris Johnson: Where the bloody hell is this personal protective equipment you keep promising us?”
The medics’ comments were echoed by the doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, which said: “If we are to treat our patients effectively and drive the national fight back against COVID-19, then we as doctors must be protected from the virus as we carry out our duties.
“The continued failure of the government to provide an adequate supply of personal protective equipment to healthcare workers is putting doctors and patients alike at risk of serious illness and even of death.”
Meanwhile, Dr Hisham El Khidir - a consultant at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, whose cousin was the first surgeon in the UK to die from coronavirus - said more testing could have saved his loved one’s life.
Dr Adil El Tayar is believed to have been infected in March while working at Hereford County Hospital.
•When will testing increase?
The government has said it will expand coronavirus testing of NHS staff but the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital told staff on Tuesday that the amount of employees it could test was limited and they would not know more details until next week.
They said testing would be offered to “key staff” on frontline roles but did not give a start date.
They said across the country tests would increase to 25,000 a day by April 20, from around 8,000 a day so far.
The hospital also told staff that the Norwich Research Park had volunteered to help increase testing capacity.
A spokesman for the Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group said they expected testing to increase “rapidly” in the next few weeks as national supplies increased.
“Our aim is to prioritise getting NHS staff back to work,” they said. “To start with we will invite staff who do not have symptoms but who are self-isolating at home because other family members have symptoms or are self isolating. The family member with symptoms will be tested. If they do not have Coronavirus, then the staff member can safely return to work.”
They said that GP and community staff would be invited for testing at Norwich Community Hospital or Beccles Community Hospital.
On getting staff protective equipment, they said the government had bought millions more items of PPE which had been delivered to hospitals.
“Deliveries to practices, care homes and hospices have been scheduled for this week,” they added.
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