Coronavirus: Hospitals hours from running out of equipment as leaked NHS email reveals demand up 2,000 per cent

Exclusive: ‘There are no visors left nationally, no long sleeve disposable gowns. This is really serious’

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Thursday 19 March 2020 12:12 GMT
Coronavirus: How to become a 'super-preventer' and help halt pandemic spread

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Some hospitals are just 24 hours away from running out of protective equipment needed to keep nurses and doctors safe from coronavirus infection, as a leaked email from NHS bosses reveals the health service has already run out of some kit.

Across the country doctors and nurses have spoken out about shortages to personal protective equipment (PPE), including visors, masks and gowns, as demand across the country has jumped 2,000 per cent, according to an email to hospitals sent on Wednesday night.

One hospital manager spoke to The Independent on Wednesday night saying their hospital was just 24 hours away from running out of equipment.

They said: “We have not got enough PPE equipment to get through the next 24 hours. Multiple mutual aid requests are now happening across the region to cover immediate issues.”

They said specialist respirator masks, known as FFP3s, “will soon run out nationally and now suppliers are about to start selling the NHS FFP2 masks as that’s all we can get. There are no visors left nationally, no long sleeve disposable gowns. This is really serious and needs reporting.”

Asked what they made of the claims there was enough stock in the country, the hospital boss added: “We’ve been told for weeks there is stock, there isn’t.

“We have run out of eye protection, long sleeve aprons. We are buying safety goggles from industrial wholesalers to try and get something.

“Last night I had to ration equipment across four wards, normally one ward would have held 10 times that amount.”

On Tuesday NHS England’s chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard told MPs on the health select committee that there was enough equipment and shortages were only “local issues”.

In an email, sent to directors of infection control on Wednesday night, NHS England revealed the scale of the difficulties in getting enough supply to hospitals.

There are no visors left nationally, no long sleeve disposable gowns. This is really serious and needs reporting 
Hospital manager 

The message, seen by The Independent, said demand for protective equipment had increased by 2,000 per cent across the country.

It said there were “no visors, only goggles now – they are coming, they have just been released from pandemic flu batch”.

It warned that the NHS Supply Chain organisation, which manages logistics for NHS trusts, was now focused on day-to-day supply “rather than two weeks so no stockpiling”.

The email added that “back orders” for equipment that was out of stock had now been stopped and deliveries of equipment to hospitals were taking place throughout the day.

Hospitals were told to prioritise using short shelf life equipment first and hold back on kit that had a longer shelf life.

Amid growing speculation that London could be placed into strict lockdown from Friday, the email said: “We are working really hard in London to try and unpick the supply chain challenges and ensure better communications around this and I will pass on any information as I receive it. I appreciate that this is really frustrating efforts within your organisations.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA council chair, said: “There are limits to the risks to which doctors, indeed all healthcare workers, can reasonably be expected to expose themselves to.

“Frontline staff must have the proper personal protective equipment if they are treating patients with Covid-19 or suspected to have Covid-19. We are hearing of staff trying to buy masks from DIY stores in desperation because they are not being provided with it by their employers. This is totally unacceptable; healthcare workers should not, and do not, have to expose themselves to high-risk situations without having adequate PPE.

“The government must find a reliable way to substantially increase the production and distribution of PPE. If any healthcare worker treating someone with Covid-19 was to become ill, or worse, due to a lack of PPE, the consequences will be dire and the impact on patient care catastrophic.”

The NHS has been contacted for comment.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in