Northern Ireland news

Personal protective equipment supply line 'vital' as doctors highlight shortages

Dr Tom Black, chairman of the British Medical Association in NI
Mairead Holland

DOCTORS should not have to expose themselves to high-risk situations without having adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), a leading GP has said.

Dr Tom Black, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland, said the government "has a legal, moral and ethical responsibility to ensure there is adequate supplies" amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

He was speaking after a UK-wide survey by the BMA revealed that more than half of doctors working in high-risk environments, such as intensive care units, said there were either shortages or no supply at all of adequate face masks.

Sixty-five per cent said they did not have access to eye protection while 55 per cent said they felt pressurised to work in a high-risk area despite not having adequate PPE.

"We have been continually highlighting this to the Department of Health to ensure our members’ and all health service workers’ safety," Dr Black said.

"We acknowledge that the department is doing all it can to procure more PPE in a very difficult time. Establishing these supply lines is vital to ensuring a regular flow of PPE to the areas where it is needed."

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: "This is not the flu. We are dealing with an unknown, highly-infectious, and potentially deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of several healthcare workers, including 11 doctors in the UK. It is absurd that the people trained to treat this disease are the ones who are not being appropriately protected – and without them, we face real disaster.

"It's unclear whether the lack of PPE is directly linked to the recorded deaths of doctors so far, but we know that no healthcare workers have been infected in a hospital in Italy precisely because their PPE supplies are sufficient and of high-quality."

The Royal College of Nursing has issued new guidance to prevent more frontline deaths from coronavirus.

Nurses should refuse to treat patients "as a last resort" if they are not given adequate PPE, it said.

"For nursing staff, this will go against every instinct. But their safety must not be compromised," a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Conor Murphy has said the Chinese PPE manufacturer that Stormont is poised to place a multi-million pound order with is a "credible" supplier.

Mr Murphy gave the reassurances as he and Health Minster Robin Swann visited the Huhtamaki factory in west Belfast which has partnered with another Northern Ireland business, Bloc Blinds, to produce four to six million face shields a week.

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