Nurses express fears about dire PPE shortage for staff treating suspected Covid patients

Northern Ireland is expected to receive PPE following a shipment of supplies from China to the Republic
Seanín Graham

NURSES treating suspected coronavirus patients are insisting they cannot access specialist protective masks despite government assurances about "improved distribution" to the frontline.

Staff working in one of Northern Ireland's busiest hospitals contacted The Irish News last night expressing fears about their risks of contracting the virus and "becoming acutely ill or dying" due to shortages of kits known as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The nurses, who wish to remain anonymous, said they were being sent to care for patients with symptoms - but had to wait 24 hours before Covid-19 test results came back.

The only PPE they were given were gloves and aprons as no masks or goggles were available.

"Our staff are currently waiting over 24 hours now for a result. If that patient comes back positive god knows how many more patients and staff that are infected," the staff member said.

"They will only let us wear PPE if the patient tests positive. Every suspected case should treated as a positive until the test is confirmed.

"Many of our staff are going to end up with Covid and become acutely unwell or die."

There are global PPE shortages as much of it is manufactured in China.

Last Friday, finance minister Conor Murphy said a "significant" consignment of PPE has been ordered from China as part of a deal between the Stormont and the the Republic's government.

"The order has been placed and we want it here as soon as possible, and supplied to our frontline workers as soon as possible."

Earlier that day, health minister Robin Swann also insisted that "concrete action" was being taken to address the crisis.

"It needs to be emphasised that we have substantial PPE in stock and it is being issued to the system, with more orders placed," he said.

"Steps have also been taken to streamline and improve its distribution, and to ensure the independent care home and domiciliary care providers are supported...It is, of course, also essential that these products are used in line with advice."

However, solicitor Claire McKeegan, who was instructed by a group of nurses from two health trusts to seek assurances from Mr Swann, last night said it remained unclear when the stocks can be accessed.

"Our clients are at risk and are instructing that patients are slipping through to wards with Covid-19 and the staff are therefore being placed in grave danger in the period between testing and a positive results due to the lack of protective wear," she said.

"In order to remain working and protect themselves they have been collecting supplies of FP3 masks and other protective wear from kind construction industry donors and the community."

Ms McKeegan said that a failure to to provide PPE "not only carries civil liability but is a criminal offence" under the Health and Safety at Work (NI) Order 1978.

"In light of the seriousness of the situation, we have asked that all records have been kept in relation to decisions being taken," she added.

"Our clients fully intend to have this matter fully investigated when time allows for this to be done."

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that flight from Dublin to China that was due to collect medical supplies has had to turn around following a bird strike.

Aer Lingus flight EI9018 to Beijing returned to Dublin yesterday afternoon.

A spokesman for Aer Lingus said: "EI9108 has returned to Dublin following a bird strike. Upon landing in Dublin it will be assessed by engineers and upon its clearance for travel a new departure time will be ascertained."

The first of dozens of flights from China carrying consignments of personal protective equipment (PPE) landed in Dublin on Sunday.

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