Boris Johnson is facing growing pressure to get more personal protective equipment (PPE) to health workers after it was claimed some nurses were treating coronavirus patients “without any protection at all”.
The prime minister will chair a meeting of his cabinet by videolink on Tuesday as he continues to self-isolate in Downing Street after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
It comes as the British Medical Association (BMA) warned many hospitals and GP practices are facing “life-threatening shortages” of PPE, with one NHS procurement chief tweeting “God help us all”.
Around a quarter of NHS doctors are off work because they are sick or in isolation, according to the Royal College of Physicians.
Dr Rob Harwood, from the BMA, said healthcare workers needed clarity from ministers about what risks they should not have to take if they do not have adequate protective gear.
“Doctors are placing themselves at significant risk by treating patients on the front-line and there are concerns that sometimes this is without adequate PPE,” he said.
“While the government has been forthcoming in letting us know that protection is on the way, there are still doctors and other NHS staff who today, tomorrow and in the coming week, may face the daunting prospect of having to consider treating patients without adequate protection.
“Having seen the tragic deaths of medics in Italy and now closer to home here in the UK, doctors and NHS staff have every right to be concerned, knowing that a lack of adequate protection is not only dangerous, it may be fatal.”
Dr Richard Vautrey, from the BMA, said many GPs remain “seriously concerned that what has been provided does not offer them sufficient protection for both themselves and for patients”.
“This situation cannot be allowed to continue,” he added.
“Practices need action not more promises.”
The Royal College of Nursing said it was “completely unacceptable” that weeks into the coronavirus crisis some nurses are yet to be provided with the necessary PPE.
Its chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said she had heard from nurses who are treating patients in COVID-19 wards “without any protection at all”.
“This cannot continue,” she said. “They are putting themselves, their families, and their patients at risk.
“We need action, we need equipment, we need it now.”
It has been claimed that protective gowns for frontline NHS staff were not included in the national pandemic stockpile of PPE.
The Health Care Supply Association (HCSA), which represents procurement professionals within the UK’s healthcare sector, warned of “serious supply issues” in hospitals.
The HCSA has asked officials “why gowns appear never to be included in the original pandemic stockpile”.
In a tweet about the issue, which has since been deleted, the HCSA’s chief officer Alan Hoskins said he had “just got message back no stock can’t help”, before adding: “God help us all.”
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said the government “cannot and should not ask people to be on the frontline without the right protective equipment”.
He has said 170 million masks and almost 10 million items of cleaning equipment are among the items being delivered to NHS trusts and healthcare settings.
Meanwhile, NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has said the government is “pulling out all the stops” to deliver enough equipment to hospitals but cautioned it was a “huge logistics exercise”.
On Tuesday, the Office for National Statistics is set to release figures on UK deaths involving coronavirus in the wider community, such as care homes.
The ONS will look at deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned anywhere on the death certificate, including in combination with other health conditions.
These figures are likely to offer detail on how many community deaths involve coronavirus, rather than just looking at deaths in hospital.
The deaths of a further 180 coronavirus patients were confirmed on Monday, taking the UK’s total to 1,415.