NHS staff treating coronavirus patients feel like “lambs to the slaughter”, the Doctors’ Association has said, as calls for more protective clothing to shield medics intensified on Sunday.
Chairman Dr Rinesh Parmar said doctors and nurses are still not getting the equipment they need and feel treated like “cannon fodder” in the UK’s fight against the disease.
Speaking to BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Parmar made a direct appeal to prime minister Boris Johnson for help.
He said: “We have had doctors tell us they feel like lambs to the slaughter, that they feel like cannon fodder. GPs tell us that they feel absolutely abandoned.
“We are all pleading with Boris Johnson that they really look into arranging the vital personal protection equipment that all of us need on the NHS front line.”
His plea came as a group of almost 4,000 NHS workers penned an open letter to the PM in the Sunday Times, urging him to “protect the lives of the life-savers” and resolve the “unacceptable” shortage of protective equipment.
Saying medical workers were “putting their lives on the line every day” by treating coronavirus patients without appropriate protection, they called on Johnson to ensure an adequate supply of masks, safety glasses, gloves, aprons and protective suits.
The letter, signed by 3,963 frontline NHS staff, read: “Front-line doctors have been telling us for weeks that they do not feel safe at work.
“Intensive care doctors and anaesthetists have told us they have been carrying out the highest-risk procedure, putting a patient on a ventilator, with masks that expired in 2015.”
It adds that paediatricians have warned their stocks of protective glasses would run out in 48 hours, including in special-care baby units.
One acute care worker reported one NHS trust had run out of its stock of masks last weekend, the letter said.
“GPs have told us they feel abandoned; many have been left without any protection for weeks and do not even have simple masks to protect them if a patient comes in with symptoms of Covid-19,” it continued.
Ambulance workers had been arriving for shifts to find no hand sanitiser, masks or wipes were available, it also stated.
Staff in the NHS feel like “lambs to the slaughter” and “cannon fodder” because of a lack of personal protective equipment, says Dr Rinesh Parmar, Chair of the Doctors’ Association#Marr#Covid_19https://t.co/qXKtTxYWj6pic.twitter.com/KXoCKDhGSL
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) March 22, 2020
The UK death toll on Sunday rose to 240 after a further seven patients in Wales died.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, communities secretary Robert Jenrick admitted more needed to be done.
The presenter put details of the letter to the minister, including how medics felt “abandoned”, and challenged him with the question: “That’s a disgrace isn’t it?”
Jenrick replied “absolutely”, and moved to reassure frontline staff that protective clothing, saying it was on its way “this afternoon”.
He said: “Everybody who is on the frontline, supporting us as a country through this crisis, must have the equipment that they need to do their job and to be personally protected.
“We are working very hard, with success, to get more PPE (personal protective equipment) available.
“I think by this afternoon we will have delivered more supplies to hospitals across the country. We have delivered supplies to GP surgeries and to pharmacies and next week all social care providers will receive further supplies.
“We are manufacturing and importing large quantities and I think in recent days we have received three million masks for example but I completely accept there is more to do.
“We are manufacturing and importing more and we need to get that to the frontline as quickly as possible.”