Medical associations have warned that their members face difficult choices about exposing themselves and other patients to the risk of infection, with fears that supplies of critical items are running low in hospitals.
Enraged doctors have warned that they might be forced to stop treating patients as ministers admitted tonight that a crucial consignment of personal protective equipment has failed to arrive from Turkey.
The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson said he wished the 84 tonnes of kit from Turkey would be in the UK tomorrow, despite it having been announced with fanfare by Cabinet colleague Robert Jenrick.
But appearing alongside Mr Williamson at the daily Downing Street briefing, deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries complained that critics are not being ‘adult’ about the problems with PPE.
She urged people to reflect on what had been ‘achieved’ in maintaining levels of equipment amid global pressures, and insisted the UK was an ‘international exemplar in preparedness’. Dr Harries also played down concerns about revised guidance that some pieces of protective kit should be re-used, urging health workers to ‘implement’ the rules as effectively as possible.
The comments could inflame tensions with medical staff with the National Health Service(NHS) Confederation joining the groups backing staff who refuse to treat patients unless they have adequate PPE, such as gowns, goggles and masks.
The Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Nurses and Midwives, and the British Medical Association have also raised serious concerns.
The row comes as Britain recorded 596 coronavirus related deaths today, bringing the national death toll to 16,060.
Some 43 National Health Service workers are officially confirmed as having lost their lives so far, although the true toll is believed to be higher.
Mr Williamson confirmed that the expected shipment from Turkey has been held up – although the cause is not clear.
Mr Hancock appointed Lord Deighton, chief planner from the London 2012 Olympics, as ‘PPE tsar’ after the Government issued guidance stating that medics would have to re-use PPE supplies.
Lord Deighton, 64, who is personally known to Boris Johnson from the Olympics, will be charged of the ‘end-to-end process of design through to manufacture’ including streamlining approvals’, sources claim.
Dr Chaand Nagpul, BMA council chair, said: ‘There are limits to the level of risk staff can be expected to expose themselves and their patients to.
In the most extreme circumstances, if adequate protective measures are not in place, doctors can refuse to put themselves at risk of becoming infected, and inform their management to make alternative arrangements’.
Prof Neil Mortensen from the Royal College of Surgeons has told his colleagues not to risk their health if good PPE could not be used when treating coronavirus patients.
When asked why the Government has not responded to manufacturers willing to produce PPE, Mr Williamson said that they will be contacted in the next 24 hours.
The Education Secretary said that a billion extra PPE have been brought into the country while the Government was doing ‘immense work’ in trying to find British suppliers. He encouraged those suppliers who have been in contact with the Government and have ‘slipped through the net’ to get in touch again.
He added: ‘We recognize this is a national endeavor and we are so incredibly grateful for so many people who are willing to step forward to make a real difference, and we certainly don’t want to miss out on those opportunities.’ The press conference comes amid intensifying fears that under-funding during a prolonged period of austerity has left the National Health Service inadequately prepared in terms of Personal Protective Equipment for a pandemic.