Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the early months of COVID-19 left doctors feeling ‘abandoned’ by the Government, BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul has warned MPs.
The failure to supply PPE to frontline doctors in March and April came as a bitter shock to the medical profession, Dr Nagpaul told members of the Parliamentary public accounts committee last week, with doctors having previously been assured there were adequate stockpiles of PPE.
Addressing the committee’s hearing into the Government’s procurement processes and contracts for COVID-19 PPE via video link, Dr Nagpaul said many GPs had not even been able to buy PPE directly as supplies had already been directed towards the secondary care sector and had run out, adding the situation did not begin to improve until May.
“Even doctors in high-risk areas, half of them said there were shortages. In general practice, when this virus was really spreading within the community, we had received no supplies, by the middle of March, of any PPE.
“We felt pretty abandoned in the middle of March,” he said.
Dr Nagpaul further highlighted how guidance on PPE from Public Health England had been inconsistent, having failed to follow World Health Organization guidance on the importance of issuing doctors with eye protection, prior to 2 April.
When questioned by the committee about the Government’s failure to investigate the deaths of healthcare staff who had contracted the virus, Dr Nagpaul expressed further dismay.
He said the BMA wrote to NHS England CEO Sir Simon Stevens on 9 April calling for risk assessments of doctors to record metrics such as job role, exposure to the virus and concerns about PPE, to better understand whether certain doctors were at greater risk. “That data wasn’t collected. Had it been collected we would now be in a much better position to answer that question.”