Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes certain medical equipment such as masks, gloves and visors. With the coronavirus pandemic affecting healthcare services around the world, personal protection to prevent the spread of coronavirus and protect healthcare workers is more vital than ever. NHS staff treating patients in hospitals and within the community are in requirement of PPE to minimise further spread and to protect themselves when dealing with high risk patients. As there has been a massive demand, shortages of PPE have been reported in NHS hospitals and other care facilities, despite government claims that there is an adequate supply. However, supply of protective gowns is critically low in some hospitals according to the chief executive of NHS providers, Chris Hopson.
Anyone who comes into close contact with patients who may or do have coronavirus should wear some kind of protection, including non-frontline staff such as carers, pharmacists and doctors. The type of PPE required depends on the extent of risk, yet the asymptomatic nature of this virus makes difficult the ability to discern between infected and uninfected patients. Guidelines recommend that anyone working within 2m (6ft) of a confirmed or suspected Covid-19 patient should wear an apron, gloves, a surgical mask and eye protection. Clinicians in a more ‘frontline’ role with patients suspected of infection should use a higher standard of protection, including disposable gowns, filtering respirators and face-shielding visors – something akin to surgical dress.
The government says it's provided over 750 million pieces of PPE across the United Kingdom, which a press release states includes:
Concerns have been raised over the standard of gowns ordered from further afield such as Asia, as stocks run low in the USA. China is the only immediate high-volume source of clinical gowns, yet very specialised fluid-repellent treatment is required, and the rigour of construction can be problematic to verify. Yet, with other smaller source manufacturing countries placing bans on gowns and other material export, healthcare providers are between a rock and a hard place.
There is massive global competition for gowns, mostly centred on the Chinese manufacturing industry. It has been reported that senior NHS leaders started buying stocks many weeks ago but the delivery continues to be erratic despite daily freight flights. It appears that quality control in Chinese factories has delayed the process, as with the export testing of goods to international buyers, which requires local testing before releasing stocks. In the rushed atmosphere of the current day situation, there are instances of stock being mislabelled with gowns seemingly arriving only to contain incorrect products and boxes containing masks. Furthermore, the process is delayed further as the government and healthcare organisations wish to test the integrity of these materials even once actual stocks have arrived.
There has recently been outcry because the UK reportedly missed 3 chances to be included within the EU's PPE scheme. European doctors and nurses are preparing to receive about €1.5bn (£1.3bn) worth of private protective equipment (PPE) shortly through a joint procurement scheme involving a massive sector of 25 countries which produce EU compliant regulation materials. The EU’s swift work has led to offers of medical equipment, including masks, overalls and goggles, in far more than the quantity requested, a spokesman for the EU commission said. The EU is separately establishing stockpiles within member states, with the primary being founded in Romania.
It is unknown what the resolution of the situation will be here in the United Kingdom, but poses serious questions for future preparedness, and, in some peoples eye, a query at the slow response of government to the imminent threat of the virus. As lockdown eases over time, it is unknown whether a further wave of infections could occur, but seems likely as this is the path most viruses follow historically. However, industry in China has partially restarted around Wuhan, the province at the heart of the outbreak. Therefore, there may be a temporary ‘ease’ in shortage as shipments are prioritised from China to export. The United Kingdom does indeed have lockdown legislation and pandemic stockpiles of medicines and medical equipment, yet one has to wonder how the process of stockpiling will change into the future in light of an unprecedented pandemic.