Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and more pertinently the lack of it has been a controversial issue at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. While government-backed initiatives to facilitate social distancing have allowed many workers to keep safe from the disease by working from home, the need for key workers such as health care assistants, carers, nurses and doctors has put some of the hardest working and lowest paid members of society at risk. In the UK, one of the worst-hit areas in Europe at time of writing, insufficient access has seen three nurses who were forced to improvise with garbage bags when PPE wasn’t available reportedly contract the deadly illness.
PPE is a term used to describe the myriad of equipment needed for healthy individuals to treat infected patients without running the risk of pathogen spread between the two. For the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, adequate PPE according to the British Medical Association consists of a surgical face mask, disposable apron, disposable gloves, and eye protection as the minimum. The PPE required for higher-risk situations, such as when aerosol-generating procedures (for example, certain surgeries) are being carried out, clinicians require an FFP3 respirator, long-sleeved disposable gown, disposable gloves, and disposable eye protection.
Despite these clear and scientifically supported basic requirements, clinicians across the globe have been pressured into working without adequate protection as cripplingly low supplies have resulted in shortages worldwide. At the Northwick Hospital in Harrow, England, nurses resorted to wearing clinical waste bags as a shortage in PPE had left the ward without the correct equipment, The Telegraph reported last month, sharing a photo of staff wearing what appears to be garbage sacks. At the time, a senior nurse said they were already treating fellow members of staff who’d contracted the disease, and now all three nurses have reportedly themselves tested positive for COVID-19.
The Northwick Hospital had reported that it was in a state of emergency when all critical care wards were at full capacity in March, and one ward in the hospital has seen 50 percent of its staff test positive for the disease according to a new report in The Telegraph. Increasing staff sickness is putting even greater pressure on the National Health Service (NHS) in England, where, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, at least 5.7 percent of hospital doctors are currently unfit to work. This statistic is a matter for debate however, as a recent survey conducted by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) indicated that staff sickness was in the region of 14.6 percent.
With pressure already on due to decreased staff numbers, health care workers around the world are under more pressure than ever to provide consistent care to growing caseloads all the while being expected to continue their duties without proper protection.