The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) is tracking the impact of COVID-19 on frontline NHS workers through regular surveys of its members. Over the last month, there have been improvements in staff absence and access to tests for NHS workers. However, clear problems remain with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and access to tests for NHS workers’ households.

The survey shows that general access to PPE declined over April. At the start of the month:

  • 22% of RCP members were unable to access general PPE, compared with 27% at the end. 
  • 37% said they could not always access a full-face visor.
  • 31% could not always access a long-sleeved gown if working in the high-risk aerosol-generating procedure (AGP) areas.
  • Only half of the doctors surveyed had consistent access to protective goggles, and 31% either had not been fit tested or were not able to fit test their PPE, which is only effective when properly fitted. 

The RCP and the Resus Council also report outstanding concerns about PHE guidance that says starting CPR (specifically chest compressions) does not require Aerosol Generating Procedure (AGP) PPE. 

Finally, comments submitted as a part of the survey highlight that, given that the Government’s approach to involving the professions in the development of PPE guidance has been varied, working with the sector is vital for consistency of message and to maintain clinical confidence in guidance.

There is a welcome improvement in testing for NHS staff. 91% of those with symptoms said they can now access testing for themselves, up from just 31% three weeks’ ago. However, the survey found that 29% are still unable to access testing for a symptomatic member of their household.

Nationally, less than 8% of RCP members are currently off work, compared to 21.5% in London and 18.3% in the rest of England three weeks ago. 

While the RCP welcomes the Government announcement that Public Health England will lead an inquiry to understand why such a high number of people from BAME backgrounds are dying from the virus, workplace risk assessments must also be carried out, given that several risk factors are emerging. 

The survey also shows that 29% of clinicians are working in an area of medicine that is different to their usual speciality and, of those, 41% felt they had not been given sufficient psychological or emotional support. Other polling for IPPR revealed 50% of healthcare workers surveyed said their mental health had deteriorated since the outbreak of the virus.

Grahame Morris MP said, “While I welcome the improvements in testing and other areas, some of the findings from the RCP’s latest survey are concerning, such as the persistent lack of available PPE. The Government must address the shortages as a matter of urgency, as well as increase testing for members of NHS’ workers’ households. It is also vital that NHS workers are given enough time off, as the pandemic is understandably taking its toll on extremely hard-working NHS staff.”

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