Doctors and nurses have been advised to reuse pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) ahead of expected shortages this weekend – even if they are labeled as single-use.
The Department of Health has published advice for all NHS workers in light of impending supply issues, which the government has blamed on enormous worldwide demand for items such as masks and gowns.
The document states that staff should consider the “reuse of personal protective equipment” where necessary, even if designated by the manufacturer as a single-use product.
It says the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) “recognizes that some compromise in process is needed” to cope with shortages and ensure workers are still using some form of protection.
Appearing to acknowledge that the new advice contradicts earlier guidelines, the document says that “these are exceptional circumstances and do not reflect HSE’s standard approach.”
(coronavirus) news briefing, saying there was a “global shortage” affecting supply within the NHS.
Word of expected problems this weekend were reported by The Guardian just moments before the conference , specifically regarding gowns.
The Department of Health has also issued advice specific to the reuse of gowns and more modest alternatives like traditional long-sleeved lab coats, saying they “would need to be washed in a hospital laundry and capacity for hospital laundries may need to be increased. “
Health Secretary Matt Hancock had not mentioned the new advice to MPs earlier in the day.
Appearing before parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee, Mr Hancock admitted that the reuse of protective equipment may be necessary – but said nothing of the advice that has now been issued to medics.
The health secretary said: “In some cases, the reuse of PPE is advised by clinicians, so again I come back to the point that this has to be a clinical decision. “
Regarding shortages that medics have already had to endure, he said:” Given that we have a global situation in which there is less PPE in the world than the world needs, obviously it’s going to be a huge pressure point. “
It adds that” further work on validating methods to safely reprocess masks and fluid repellent gowns is under way and future updates will be circulated when available “.
Frontline NHS workers have complained of shortages throughout the COVID – 31 epidemic, with some saying that They have even had to buy their own kit and others forced to use bin bags instead of gowns.
Just a few days ago, the Royal College of Nursing advised its members to refuse to treat patients “as a last resort” if they are not given adequate PPE in a bid to prevent more frontline deaths.
Several healthcare workers are among the , 674 coronavirus patients who have died in UK hospitals .
Labor MP and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan, who has returned to the NHS frontline to help, tweeted: “My sadness is turning into anger.
“The government promised us that the NHS would be given everything it needed to tackle coronavirus. At least (healthcare staff have died of COVID – . The lack of PPE will certainly result in more avoidable deaths. “
The situation has also been acutely felt in care homes, with one carer telling Sky News that they are refusing to go to work because they have not received the gear they need to feel safe.
British Firms not normally in the business of making medical equipment have been asked to help the cause, with the fashion retailer Burberry among those pitching in.
Upon the guidance becoming public knowledge, a Department of Health spokesperson said: “New clinical advice has been issued today to make sure that if there are shortages in one area, frontline staff know what PPE to wear instead to minimise risk.
“This has been reviewed by the HSE, and is in line with World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control guidance on PPE use in exceptional circumstances.
” There is a 32 – hour NHS-run helpline where NHS and social care workers can call to report shortages in supply and it is crucial the relevant guidance for protective equipment is followed closely. “
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