A rainbow in the countryside to support NHS workers

PPE – too little too late

Firstly I’m so grateful to our NHS staff and also our refuse collectors, shop workers, teachers, DWP staff and every single person working, volunteering or supporting others. You are all amazing.

Two weeks ago I wrote in my regular Seeing Red column for the Isle of Thanet News, that now wasn’t the time to take political pot-shots. But in our Corona crisis, two weeks is an awfully long time. In the last couple of weeks we have been shocked into action, we’ve been locked down and we’ve seen the establishment of field hospitals. Covid deaths rates are soaring, and there’s the abject failure of the Government to get on top of this crisis, to get in control and to instigate testing at the right scale and pace.

Euro news reports 500,000 people a week in Germany are tested while in the UK, we have tested 150000 in total to date. It’s a sorrow making comparison. We are now watching a rapidly deepening Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) crisis, which is no doubt leading to unnecessary deaths and fear for our front line staff and their families.

Earlier this week I helped to break a story about Thanet’s PPE crisis. Staff at QEQM are as vulnerable as they are desperate. Our nurses, midwives and health care assistants, are frustrated. As a last resort they are buying their own protection and even resorting to homemade protection.

NHS support poster in a Ramsgate window

On 30th March I wrote to QEQM Hospital Director Susan Acott, to enquire what the plans are to provide PPE. I wanted the facts. The bland fact-free reply I received did nothing to reassure me:

Dear Susan,

I have been contacted by NHS staff who are concerned about the dire lack of PPE.

In fact the shortage is so severe that staff are resorting to homemade devices, which they are buying themselves. This includes masks, gels and homemade visors.

Can you provide the facts please. When will our local staff get an adequate amount of the correct PPE?

Cllr Karen Constantine

The reply:

There is also a national procurement operation underway to provide regular supplies to Trusts who are asked to regularly submit their requirements

QEQM Hospital Director Susan Acott

My similar request to Roger Gough, Leader of KCC received a similarly vapid response.

Dear Ms Constantine
Thanks for your email. I can confirm you that your email has been escalated through the NHS Command and Control systems for a response

Roger Gough, Leader of Kent County Council

What on earth does that mean? Where are the facts I requested?

I also wrote to our local South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay. No acknowledgement and no reply. 

11 days ago Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said the PPE supply issues were ‘under control’. But on April 1st the Health Service Journal provided the detail. A contract has been issued to Clipper Logistics who will manage a ‘new supply channel to deliver personal protective equipment to NHS trusts and community healthcare partners’. Cold comfort for the front line health professional who contacted me with concerns.

Judge for yourself:

I work in ITU

It’s very busy hard work the virus is nasty, the key transmission time is coming.

PPE. Those staff working with suspected C-19 have a disposable face mask.

Those working with the infected patients now have full PPE which is full gown & FFP3 mask. We should have the fitted versions but we don’t.

We use them for 13 hours. I don’t know how long they are effective for. I think they are only effective for 4 hours.

We have run out of full face visors. We are using disposable eye visors. These do not offer the protection needed. Again we wear these for 13 hours. We’ve been told to reuse and to wipe them with a Clinell wipe. I don’t know if this kills the virus we use other wipes for MRSA.

Is the trust rationing our PPE?

We all want to be tested. But they are only testing those who are off sick. Once tested if negative they are told to come back to work. Even though they are still sick! One member of staff is reporting symptoms but being told to stay at work.

Staff breaks are minimal. We work 13 hour shifts. We are working through breaks and are not able to ‘bank’ excess work to take back later as we are usually able to do.

Staff are in the staff room together where social distancing simply can’t be practiced.

We have to hold on to go to the toilet and make sure we go in our breaks. That’s time consuming and difficult.

I am buying visors from a man who is making them at home.

Intensive Care Unit NHS worker, QEQM

We need our Politicians and senior health professionals to give us all the facts. We are told that Trust deliveries will start on Tuesday and that much needed community supplies will start next week. Our social care workers also need protection every bit as urgently as our NHS staff.

But it’s the underlining issues that really tax my ability to feel confident in our Government to manage this crisis. As yet another NHS contract is handed to the private sector (Virgin in North Kent), as many people have no other option but to claim the pittance that is Universal Credit, 950,000 new claims since 16th March. It’s hard to believe the U.K. is in fact the sixth richest economy in the world. We could have been much better prepared. Our hand to mouth supply system quickly broke. The decade of Conservative asset stripping, including staff, equipment, and underinvestment has ensured our NHS is too fragile to flex quickly enough to respond. Front line staff are overwhelmed and much criticised managers are just too few in number. Our NHS has been pared down time the bone and we need it more than we ever have.

We did in fact see this coming. Lessons should have been learned from ‘exercise Cygnus (Daily Telegraph paywall content), which took place in October 2016 and involved all major government departments, the NHS and local authorities across Britain. The evaluation made clear “There was not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for the nation’s doctors and nurses”.

It’s too little too late. It’s not good enough. It’s not a surprise. It’s ideology.