Sunday, 31 May 2020
A SURGERY in Henley is still to receive any equipment from NHS England to protect its staff from the coronavirus pandemic.
Doctors at the Hart Surgery want surgical masks with visors as well as gowns and gloves in line with a recommendation by the World Health Organisation.
They have appealed to the NHS for the equipment following reports that global shortages have led to medical staff hiding theirs in desperation or taking time off work to avoid contracting the virus.
The York Road surgery has received a donation of about 24 specialist masks with visors from a company near Abingdon but is still waiting for equipment from NHS England. It has its own gowns and gloves.
Senior partner Philip Unwin said: “We have been very lucky that a private company has very kindly supplied us with personal protective gear.
“They are very good quality and much better than the stuff I suspect the NHS is going to provide, so we are currently reasonably well supplied and resourced.
“However, I know that other people who work with us in the area do not have that luxury. The district nurses and nurses in the minor injuries unit [at Townlands Memorial Hospital] have very little protective equipment. The country is very short of protective equipment generally.
“This is very, very serious and our staff are worried. I want the people that are seeing patients face-to-face and are likely to spread or contract covid-19 to have really good protective equipment along with the ability to do a test for the virus. These are the two things we’re missing.
“We have no cure for covid-19 so we have to control it as best as we can. The only way to do that is to stop it from spreading.”
Dr Unwin, who has worked as a GP for 32 years, said it was highly likely some of the 30 staff and doctors at the surgery would come into contact with the virus when patients visited.
“There’s no question about it,” he said. “It’s just about whether or not we have already contracted it. There’s an awful lot of people out there who have covid-19 who we don’t know about. Some of the local GPs have already contracted it and are now unwell and managing their illness at home. It’s probably inevitable that we get it.
“We do our very best to protect staff and we’ve put up barriers at the surgery to protect them so patients can’t get too close to the reception desk. They are more at risk than other people who are working from home because they’re actually coming in to work in a surgery.
“All staff need masks and visors that work and protect them. The only reason we’re feeling reasonably comfortable is because of the donation we received. The rest of this equipment needs to get to us as soon as possible.”
Dr Unwin reassured patients they could still get an appointment if it was essential and district nurses at Townlands were also still visiting patients in their own homes.
However, he criticised the provisions that had been put in place to protect the nurses on their visits.
“I saw them the other day and I was shocked at how little attention had been put into their safety,” he said. “They all have gloves and the basic surgical face mask, which has been proven to be inadequate for their needs, and they might have an apron.”
The surgery has increased the number of telephone appointments so patients do not have to come in.
Jo Duncan, head of prescriptions, said: “We have also minimised the number of staff that are in at any one time but the number varies. We usually have five doctors. We can’t have face-to-face appointments with patients. They’re not allowed into the surgery unless they have had a chat with a doctor who has instructed them to come in for regular or urgent blood tests.
“As a team, we’re working extraordinarily well together and it’s important that we try to make sure that our patients are as best served as possible. Every single member of staff has an individual helmet with a visor and we have to wear them all the time even if there are no patients.”
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told a Downing Street briefing on Sunday that 170 million masks, 42.8 million gloves, 13.7 million aprons, 182,000 gowns, almost 10 million items of cleaning equipment and 2.3 million pairs of eye protectors were being delivered to frontline staff.
He said: “Every single GP practice, dental practice and community pharmacy has had a personal protective equipment delivery. All care homes, hospices and home care providers have, or will shortly, receive a delivery.”
A spokeswoman for NHS England said: “Millions more items of personal protective equipment is going out to frontline staff and every NHS and hospital trust in England should have received a delivery.
“While the NHS is using high quantities of equipment to protect staff and combat the virus, the full weight of the Government is behind it, ensuring our staff have the high-quality protective equipment they need.”
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