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Coronavirus: Doctors’ lives at risk over PPE shortages, says BMA

A doctors’ union has said many of its members are still not getting the protective equipment they need to treat patients with coronavirus.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said doctors were putting their lives at risk.

On Friday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there was enough kit for everyone and unveiled a plan for addressing shortages.

The UK recorded 980 hospital deaths on Thursday, bringing the total to 8,958.

That death toll, which does not include those who died in care homes or the community, has exceeded the worst daily figures seen in Italy and Spain.

But England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, warned it was “impossible to say we have peaked”, adding that the measures the country was taking with social distancing needed to continue.

Meanwhile, supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) in London and Yorkshire are at “dangerously low levels”, according to the BMA.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said doctors are being forced into a corner and face “heart-breaking decisions” over whether to carry on without proper protection.

He said: “This is an immensely difficult position to be in, but is ultimately down to the government’s chronic failure to supply us with the proper equipment.”

‘Precious resource’

BBC health editor Hugh Pym said some NHS and care workers say they are still struggling to get protective equipment and felt unsafe, despite earlier pledges by the government.

Our correspondent asked Mr Hancock if he was acknowledging the previous plans were insufficient.

The health secretary responded that it had been an “enormous challenge”, but that 742 million pieces of protective gear had been delivered so far.

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“But there’s clearly a huge task ahead to keep it flowing and to make sure that those who need it get it,” he added.

Mr Hancock also told Friday afternoon’s Downing Street briefing that protective equipment – such as masks, gloves and aprons – must be used only where it was most needed.

“There’s enough PPE to go around, but only if it’s used in line with our guidance. We need everyone to treat PPE like the precious resource that it is,” he said.

Susan Masters, national director of nursing policy and practice at the Royal College of Nursing, said the amount of PPE being delivered would only be impressive “when nursing staff stop contacting me to say what they need to use wasn’t available”.

“The calls are still coming through – people are petrified. They have seen colleagues die already.”

‘UK’s death toll among highest in Europe’

By Philippa Roxby, health reporter

There is no hiding from the fact that today’s announcement of 980 new UK deaths has surpassed Italy and Spain’s worst days during this pandemic.

Italy’s highest death toll was 969; Spain’s 950.

While these two countries are now seeing daily death figures coming down, the UK’s have been closing in on 1,000 for several days – and the true death toll is likely to be higher once deaths not yet reported have been added in.

Yet the NHS has not been overwhelmed in the way that Italy’s hospitals appeared to be, particularly in the north.

The message is that the NHS has spare capacity and intensive care beds not yet used, thanks to planning and everyone’s efforts to stay at home.

There was even a plea from health officials that anyone with serious and worrying health problems of any kind should contact the NHS as usual.

The hope is now that the UK’s social distancing measures will have the same effect as Italy and Spain’s lockdowns, and deaths will start to fall – not just slow down – in the weeks to come.

At the government’s briefing, chief nursing officer Ruth May paid tribute to front-line staff who had died after contracting coronavirus.

“The NHS is a family and we feel their loss deeply,” she said.

Appealing to the public to continue observing the lockdown rules, she urged people to “stay at home, save lives and protect my staff”.

Mr Hancock has said the warm Easter weekend will be a “test of the nation’s resolve” as he reminded people to stay at home and resist visiting local beaches or parks.

Mr Hancock was challenged about a report in Health Service Journal which said he had been failing to observe social distancing rules himself, holding regular video calls in his office surrounded by between 10 and 20 colleagues.

Senior NHS leaders expressed alarm that the health secretary was providing a bad example, the report said.

Mr Hancock insisted that he followed social distancing rules on the occasions when he had to come into the office.

In other developments:

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