COVID-19 Medscape UK PPE Poll: 7 in 10 Lack Supplies

Tim Locke

March 23, 2020

A Medscape UK reader poll shows a worrying lack of availability of protective equipment.

More than 7 in 10 (72%) reported that they didn't have supplies of the protective equipment they need.

One doctor said it feels like "working at Chernobyl". Another said doctors feel like "lambs to the slaughter".

Poll Details

Our poll launched on March 19th, the day Government Chief Medical Adviser Prof Chris Whitty told a Downing Street news briefing staff have "entirely reasonably" been writing to him about PPE shortages. He promised there was "a major strand of work for the Department of Health and Social Care to make sure that this works". Data was captured until the end of yesterday (22nd March), the day Doctors' Association UK (DAUK) sent a letter signed by thousands of frontline NHS staff to the Prime Minister reiterating calls for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers. DAUK said some staff felt like "cannon fodder".

Today NHS England issued a news release: Hospitals Get Ramped Up For Delivery Of Protective Kit To Staff Fighting Coronavirus. The army is becoming involved in deliveries.

A total of 214 UK doctors who are registered with Medscape answered our online poll.

Do you have supplies of the protective equipment you need?

  • 154 (72%) No

  • 60 (28%) Yes

If you have supplies, are they adequate?

Of the 60 reporting having supplies:

  • 9 (15%) yes adequate

  • 51 (85%) no not adequate

Is COVID-19 testing available in your workplace?

  • 155 (72%) No

  • 59 (28%) Yes

'Lambs for the Slaughter'

We also asked for your comments about PPE availability and testing.

Here is a selection:

  • We need protection. At present we are like lambs for the slaughter! (cardiology)

  • Appropriate PPE is severely lacking in hospitals and doctors are pushed forward by managers like sacrificial lambs. (surgery)

  • No equipment, no tests, working like sacrificial lambs. (surgery)

  • We have half our juniors off sick. We feel like cannon fodder. We have been re-deployed to do things we are not comfortable doing. (plastic surgery)

  • No PPE. Like working on Chernobyl - go to work and die with no thanks, not even a mask! (general surgery)

  • Feel a bit like being sent to war without armour or ammunition as these are rationed and we are expendable, and will hopefully get better. But will our family or the patients we infect? (ophthalmology)

  • Theatre staff buying their own equipment for eye protection. Not enough masks. (Anaesthesia & critical care)

  • We've bought FFP3 masks, goggles, and visors wholesale and from hardware stores. (anaesthesia)

  • Without adequate PPE our workforce is quickly being decimated. We are told to continue working even when we have been exposed to probable COVID-19 without PPE.

  • We are being knowingly and cynically exposed to unnecessary risk and danger…  The situation reminds me of the generals in World War 1 sending people knowingly to their deaths. (diabetes)

  • We keep being told there is stocks of PPE but it's a distribution problem. Same story from ministers at daily govt briefing. Starting to lose confidence that this is actually true. (GIM/endocrinology)

  • Trust is downgrading PPE advice to fit the kit they can source. Another Boris lie! (neurosurgery)

  • All specialties are at risk however A&E and ITU should be armoured with PPE urgently. (radiology)

  • Being advised to go against PHE guidance and not wear PPE with suspected cases. (ophthalmology)

  • First few days was full PPE. Now we are being told that full PPE is not necessary due to limited stock. If we get ill, who is going to care for the patients? We also have family members that we need to protect. We are all being put in a horrible predicament. (children's A&E)

  • PHE sent standard plastic aprons as part of PPE. No long sleeves. Normal, surgical face mask, no signs of eye protection. (GP)

  • I'm a GP locum and have only worked at one surgery that offered me any sort of PPE, albeit them being those 'expired' surgical masks and plastic aprons.

  • We were sent six paper surgical masks and flimsy visors and plastic aprons ..... NHS frontline workers cannot be expected to put themselves at risk but what is the alternative? When this peaks it will be a warzone. (GP)

  • Feel abandoned. We don't have the protective equipment, and our children are treated as orphans sent off to care camps. (ophthalmology/A&E)

  • Junior doctors are asked to help ED. We have no training and no PPE but still we are dealing with most vulnerable elderly population. (trauma & orthopaedics).

  • When I asked the managers for PPE I was told there is not enough and it has to be kept for frontline staff. (breast surgery)

  • All the staff are scared to see suspected cases due to lack of equipment and clear guidance. (A&E)

  • Several horror stories…  due to a lack of preparation, poor management, leadership and worst of all adequate and sufficient PPE equipment. (respiratory medicine)

  • I don't want to feel cowardice in the face of the enemy but at what point does strong sense of duty clash with responsibility to family and to society in not consuming resources that might otherwise not have been necessary had I stayed off GP work. 

  • We are completely left alone! No PPE3 masks, no fitting. Downplaying risks by management. (neonatology)

  • Our facemasks went out-of-date in 2016 and have been re-labelled with a new best before date for 2021. This is concerning that the PPE we are being supplied is inadequate and not fit for use but we have no choice. 

  • The lack of PPE in high-risk areas such as endoscopy is shocking, as is the lack of testing of healthcare workers with known exposure to COVID-19 patients. This is causing huge levels of anxiety and resentment amongst frontline staff. (gastroenterology)

  • Lack of clarity re equipment. Why are we using better kit for endoscopy than the staff looking after patients on the ward? 

  • When you see the types of protective equipment being used elsewhere in the world, and despite a significant attrition rate in medical professionals, it's like a satire to see the equipment we get. It's a joke. If people don't stand up for improved PPE there will be a truly awful attrition rate in our health professionals. It would appear that instead of addressing the supply issues, NHS England has just downgraded what PPE is needed. I may be wrong but that's what it seems like. 

  • I feel the change of guidance on required PPE is a disgrace! We're advised to use masks which are not protecting us! (urology)

  • PPE is of poor quality. Only one size flimsy gowns and poorly fitting gloves which come off forearm exposing bare skin. (anaesthesia & intensive care)

  • I am still conducting face-to-face consultations, despite being on immunosuppression myself. No FFP3 available. In any other job, I would be self-isolating at home. No testing being done on staff with symptoms, so significant number now self-isolating. (GIM and rheumatology)

  • No scrubs available. Have to decontaminate my clothes at my front door at home. No testing at all for staff so doctor numbers plummeting as every cough has to self-isolate. Not a single manager has even put their head round the door of my ward to see what help we need. Disgraceful. (Geriatric medicine)

  • Need better nationally agreed guidelines to reduce the exposure of healthcare workers to asymptomatic COVID-19 patients. This is being left to individual departments and clinicians (only critical care and o&gn - lack of adequate PPE for emergency services). (Obstetrics and gynaecology)

  • The two new types of FFP3 masks arrived earlier this week - but they do not fit majority of people ie, mask-fit test is a fail. (Anaesthetics and critical care)

  • I needed a special PPE3 mask fitted and there were only limited amounts available. The normal kit was ineffective. (Anaesthesia and critical care)

  • Government totally lacked the expertise and will to do anything about this pandemic. I think the medical officer and scientist Whitty and Vallance are playing with life of people. Their advice is irresponsible and unsafe. (stroke and geriatrics)

  • Cannot understand why we are being told to wear normal masks when treating suspected cases and FFP3 only when tests come back positive. Surely you've been exposed and dealt with other patients by then. I can only presume that it is lack of FFP3. (internal medicine)

  • The NHS has shown its incompetence via managers… Now they are begging [doctors] to come back from retirement to help... nothing more needs to be said! (respiratory medicine)

  • We have been informed today that normal surgical mask and gown is sufficient for use if seeing a possible COVID-19 patient at Manchester Royal Infirmary. (acute medicine)

  • Very frustrating not having enough PPE during endoscopy to protect ourselves. (gastroenterology)

  • In the private sector - so little information or help available. (diabetes)

  • Running low on supplies of standard surgical masks which is all that is being provided for COVID-19/suspected cases. I have yet to see any eye protection/more advanced masks/long gloves on any wards. (Geriatric medicine)

  • Our lab has only two technicians so it takes almost a week to get the results of the tests. (psychiatry)

  • Some of our juniors have been advised to stay at home for isolation. It does have a huge impact on work force! (care of elderly)

  • Government has had months to prepare for this and the preparations have been shambolic. (cardiology)

  • We need more guidance on cancer services during this pandemic - social distancing. It does not make sense to continue with NHS screening healthy people for potential cancers eg, in breast screening, whilst triaging breast cancer surgeries and triaging GPs referral for 2-week wait suspected symptomatic cancers when majority are breasts pain patients only! (surgery)

  • Lost trust in public health England and Government. (elderly care)

  • I hope to live to see the day of reckoning when the advisers will have to explain why they waited for so long to procure equipment, testing kits, and to move to the delay phase. (pain medicine) 


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