The national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the escalating coronavirus pandemic has been well documented in the media and the government is under increased scrutiny to address the issue.
Locally, PPE shortages are causing increasing problems at Bedford Hospital, among the police force, in hospices, care homes and for frontline workers helping Bedford’s homeless.
With charities having to source their own PPE, hospital staff being asked to reuse theirs and hospices restricting visitors as they don’t have enough PPE to go around, the Bedford Independent asked teams at the frontline what impact the PPE shortage was having on them.
At Bedford Hospital, UNISON Eastern regional organiser Shane Hall said: “The widely reported PPE shortages are causing real concerns for staff on the frontline battling Covid-19.
“Sadly, the picture in Bedford is being repeated across the country. With gown stocks dwindling and instructions to reuse PPE, staff are becoming increasingly worried about their safety.
“This is a national problem that needs national solutions. Repeated government assurances that the PPE situation is in hand aren’t ringing true with huge numbers of front-line staff.
“Front-line workers — in the NHS, care homes, local councils and elsewhere — desperately need ministers to make getting PPE into workplaces their number one priority.”
Teresa Budrey, Regional Director for the Royal College of Nursing Eastern Region, told the Bedford Independent, “Nursing staff and their health care colleagues across all health and social care settings must be given adequate PPE in order to carry out their jobs safely.
“A recent national survey carried out by the Royal College of Nursing revealed that of those nursing staff treating possible or confirmed COVID-19 patients in high risk areas, around half (51%) reported that they are being asked to re-use items of PPE that are marked ‘single use’ by manufacturers. This is completely unacceptable.
“The RCN is continuing to call on the government to provide enough of the right equipment for all nursing staff to ensure that no nurse is needlessly put in danger by lack of masks, eye protection or gowns.
“Nursing staff should not be expected to risk their lives and the lives of their families.”
Hospices and care homes
Hospices and care homes are also struggling. One of Sue Ryder’s Hospice Directors wrote this emotional plea to her local MP:
“I have worked in healthcare as a nurse and a leader for many years and never experienced anything like this.
“I never know when the next batch of supplies are coming, or what will be in that batch, I never know what the day will bring.
“We can go from no cases of coronavirus to three within a few hours. To see a young nurse with tears in her eyes above her mask is heart wrenching.
“As the hospice director I have a responsibility to keep patients, staff and visitors safe and without adequate PPE that is not possible.
“We provide PPE for visitors when it is needed but this further depletes our supplies. We are doing everything we can to lessen the footfall, so visiting is restricted to one visitor when someone is at the end of their life.
“I had to watch a grown man cry as he left the hospice not knowing when he would see his mother again.”
SMART CJS are working with Bedford’s homeless and have had to use some of their own charitable funds to source PPE.
“There has been a well-documented national shortage of PPE and we, like everyone else, have had problems with supply,” said SMART CJS, Area Manager Homelessness and Fundraised Services, Lisa Harrison.
“This has meant that we have had to source PPE ourselves across our services, often from charitable funds.
“Bedford Borough Council has also helped in this respect and are doing what they can to procure supplies for us – and we are grateful to them for their efforts.
“We are not included in the NHS or care home distribution which is organised centrally. Homeless services tend to be the forgotten frontline partner.
“The truth is without all frontline workers – delivery people, retail, council workers and SMART CJS staff – we would not keep services going and also lessen demand on the NHS.”
The charity has launched an emergency appeal to help them cope with the coronavirus pandemic and you can find out more and donate here.
Response from MPs
Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin told the Bedford Independent, “I’ve been written to by local doctors, care home providers and dentists, all raising concerns about PPE and testing.
“Months on, and the deaths of at least a hundred frontline, health and social care workers later (according to a nursing website Nursing Notes), the cries from the frontline about PPE shortages are now deafening.
“But the Government seem no nearer to securing a stable supply line to keep workers who are risking their lives to help us, safe.
“And local authorities are bearing the brunt.
“Last week, Bedford Borough Council contacted me to express “real concerns about the delivery of PPE.
“Although equipment is filtering through in fits and starts, deliveries have been late, incomplete or incorrect.
“Bedford’s Local Resilience Forum and Bedfordshire Police are working flat out to ensure we do not reach a position of rationing, but the reality is that there is a big gap between what the Government is telling us and what is happening on the frontline.”
The team at Sue Ryder’s St John’s Hospice in Moggerhanger told the Bedford Independent they have raised their concerns with North Bedfordshire MP Richard Fuller and he has been supportive.
We requested a comment from Mr Fuller for this article, but did not receive a response in time for publication.