GPs have raised concerns over carrying out patient consultations during the coronavirus pandemic as they believe some equipment is providing inadequate protection.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to demand “urgent clarification” on whether they should now wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to examine all patients.
He said family doctors on the front line are concerned about the quality of the PPE – including aprons and eye protection – being supplied to their surgeries.
The call comes after a poll by GPonline, the website for GP magazine, showed GPs feel “betrayed” and at risk in the face of Covid-19 – with more than four in five saying the quality and quantity of PPE delivered to practices is inadequate.
In his letter to Mr Hancock, Prof Marshall wrote: “GPs across the country have never been more concerned, not just for the safety of themselves and their teams, but for patients too.
“They are unsure as to whether they have enough supplies, either now, or as the crisis deepens.
“They are not confident that the current guidance provides the necessary clarity about whether GPs are using the right type of equipment, at the right times.”
Prof Marshall described Covid-19 as “arguably one of the greatest public health challenges” of our time, and one that is “significantly” affecting general practice as well as secondary care.
He added: “As the situation develops further, GPs will see an increasing number of patients with Covid-19.
“Whilst many of these patients will have symptoms associated with the virus, there are those who will present asymptomatically, particularly in primary care settings, but could still be infectious.
“It is therefore vital that urgent clarity is provided as to whether GPs should begin wearing PPE for all face-to-face patient consultations.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has also asked the Government to do more to keep staff safe as Covid-19 continues to spread.
Speaking about the Government’s lack of clarity on PPE, RCN chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “Nursing staff in all health and social care settings need to feel safe as they fight this pandemic.
“I am hearing directly from nurses who tell me they do not feel confident in the advice they are getting. Different facilities are adopting different measures, whilst treating similar patients.”
She went on to say she will keep putting pressure on the Government to address the issue of PPE provision and guidance.
“Nurses are not expendable – they are the frontline defence. We need equipment, not excuses,” Dame Donna added.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Thursday morning, health minister Edward Argar insisted that PPE deliveries are being increased, and said millions of masks and gloves have already been delivered.
“We entirely understand how important it is that you (frontline staff) get the kit that you need and feel safe and are safe in doing this amazing work that you are doing,” he said.
Mr Argar said in the last few days the government had delivered 24 million pairs of protective gloves, along with 13 million protective face masks.
On ventilators, he said an additional 8,000 were being ordered and manufactured – which should be available in the next week or two.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday that one in 10 coronavirus infections were among healthcare workers and that many more were in quarantine.
Dr Hans Henri Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, said: “As we speak the global number of cases has surpassed the 400,000 mark.
“As of yesterday, Italy reported 6,200 infected healthcare workers.
“We must all take action to protect these courageous individuals as best we can.”