Anger over lack of supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS workers is growing as a desperately needed consignment of 400,000 gowns was delayed.
The Government has been under increasing pressure to ensure the safety of frontline health staff and one leading NHS figure revealed his “bitter experience” of the lack of basic items such as gowns in recent weeks.
The number of hospital deaths of people who tested positive for Covid-19 passed 16,000, with a further 596 announced on Sunday.
The figure does not include those who died in care homes.
The Government scheme for workers who have been furloughed – given a temporary leave of absence – opened today and Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £1.25 billion package to aid companies in the innovation sector.
And Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said there was no set date for pupils to go back to schools in England, as he ruled out opening them over the summer holidays.
However, worries over the lack of PPE remained a dominant issue, as a much-anticipated shipment of 84 tonnes, including 400,000 gowns, failed to arrive from Turkey as scheduled.
Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson said it is a “deeply worrying” situation.
She said: “It’s deeply worrying that still too many of our frontline workers in the NHS and in social care are telling us that they don’t have access to the right kind of protective equipment.”
“They shouldn’t have to put themselves in harms way to look after the public,” she added.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, spoke about the widely reported delayed shipment of gowns expected from Turkey.
He told BBC Breakfast: “It’s an illustration of the dangers of focusing on a particular consignment.
“We know from bitter experience over the last few weeks that actually we can only guarantee that gowns are going to reach the front line when they actually landed on UK soil, the boxes have actually been opened and checked and they have then been safety tested.”
He added that while the 400,000 gowns would be welcome, NHS staff were getting through approximately 150,000 gowns a day.
“What we really need to get to is from the current rather hand-to-mouth approach to where sustainable supplies consistently and reliably arrive,” he added.
Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke Good Morning Britain programme “what’s happening in the community is so much worse than what’s happening in the hospitals”.
She added: “The gowns are rightly being preserved for the people who are most at risk, so those are the people in intensive care more than anything because they are exposed to more of the virus particles than anyone else.
“But all the other frontline workers – and that’s not just the NHS of course, there are 1.5 million care workers who from the outset seem to have been completely forgotten by this government – they should be wearing gowns, but instead we wear skimpy little plastic aprons. So they don’t cover your arms and your neck and the top of your chest they’re not covered either.
“That means you’re at an increased risk of catching coronavirus and – crucially – at increased risk of spreading it to your patients.
“We are using a pinny essentially – a skimpy, plastic pinny. And even now, as the government focuses on the problem of gowns, we can’t even get the pinnies everywhere they need to be in the country.”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association, said: “We made it clear weeks ago that we need to do something about the likelihood of a lack of protective equipment.”
Claudia Paoloni, president of the doctors’ union HCSA, said: said: “Our NHS workers are going above and beyond on a daily basis to heal.
“They should expect at the very least adequate protection to keep them fit and well to engage in this fight.
“Yet instead they are being asked to sacrifice themselves due to the failings of others.”
Mr Williamson told the daily Downing Street press conference: “What we’ve seen over the last few months is an enormous effort, it’s a national effort, but it’s also an international effort to secure PPE from right around the globe, but we’ve seen so many brilliant British businesses repurpose themselves in order to be able to provide it.”
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said of the equipment due to arrive from Turkey: “We hope to get that as soon as possible”.
He pointed out that is “just one of a number of measures” and said 25 million gowns are expected from China this week.