The U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) has reportedly asked hospital workers to treat coronavirus patients without full protective gowns due to supply shortages.
One bright spot during the COVID-19 pandemic is the heroism shown by medical personnel as they treat patients at tremendous risk to their own health.
However, staff in the United Kingdom are now being told to wear coveralls and a flimsy plastic apron instead of full protective gear due to a lack of supplies.
Less protection against coronavirus
The Guardian reports that the NHS has reversed the Public Health England (PHE) guidelines on protective wear when treating COVID-19 patients.
The PHE guidelines state that a healthcare worker should wear a full-length waterproof surgical gown, along with an FFP3 face mask, visor or goggles, and two pairs of gloves.
Now the PHE is saying that coveralls and plastic aprons can be worn instead.
Another alternative that the PHE offers is that hospital workers wear:
“Reusable (washable) surgical gowns/coveralls or similar suitable clothing (e.g., long-sleeved laboratory coat, long-sleeved patient gown, industrial coverall) with a disposable plastic apron for aerosol-generating procedures and high-risk settings with forearm washing once gown/coverall is removed.”
A third option is for hospitals to use fluid-repellent gowns only during aerosol-generating procedures and surgery in order to conserve them.
Like other medical systems throughout the world, the NHS is dealing with severe shortfalls in necessary supplies used to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, says, “We are tight on gowns. That is the pressure point at the moment.”
“We have another 55,000 gowns arriving today and we’re working on the acquisition internationally of more gowns, but it is a challenge. This follows changing the guidance 10 days ago which increased the advice on the use of gowns but also said that they should be used for sessional use rather than for individual patient use.”
Medical staff not happy
The new guidelines have been met with some resistance.
Workers and groups, such as the British Medical Association, say that using aprons instead of gowns increases their chances of contracting coronavirus. The Guardian reports that 50 members of the NHS staff have died of COVID-19 so far.
Doctor Rob Harwood of the British Medical Association says:
“Too many healthcare workers have already died. More doctors and their colleagues cannot be expected to put their own lives on the line in a bid to save others, and this new advice means they could be doing just that. It’s not a decision they should have to make.”
At the time of writing, the U.K. has 120,067 reported cases of coronavirus with 16,060 deaths. The crisis may continue for some time.
Professor Anthony Costello of the University College London’s Institute for Global Health told government officials that the U.K. could see up to six more waves of COVID-19 outbreaks over the next year.
Compounding the issue is a lack of medical screening for arrivals at airports. The health secretary says at least 15,000 people a day are flying into the U.K. without any medical checks at all.
This includes flights from countries with serious coronavirus outbreaks like Italy, China, Spain, and the United States.