Coronavirus: NHS staff could be forced to reuse PPE, as leaked document shows 'last resort' plans

Public Health England acknowledged ‘safe reuse of items’ was now under consideration to protect resources

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 15 April 2020 09:55
Comments
Matt Hancock declines to apologise to nurses forced to choose whether to work without PPE

Some personal protective equipment (PPE) could be reused by NHS staff under “last resort” plans to cope with shortages, according to a leaked Public Health England document.

A Public Health England spokeswoman confirmed that the “safe reuse of items” was currently under consideration, but no decisions had yet been made.

The document states that protective masks and gowns could need to be washed and reused when stocks run low and admits there is currently a “reduced ability to re-supply” PPE, the BBC reported.

Some hospitals have already begun cleaning single-use gowns to preserve stocks, according to emails seen by the broadcaster.

The plans are also said to include buying “building” or “sportswear” eye protection with extensions to cover the side of the eyes if there are no available goggles or face shields.

Health workers could also be forced to wear washable laboratory coats and patient gowns where there are no available disposable gowns or coveralls.

It is understood that the chief medical officers and chief nurses of the four UK nations recently discussed the issue. Following the meeting, a draft document written by Public Health England and dated 13 April suggested solutions for “acute supply shortages” of PPE.

“These are last-resort alternatives, but, given the current in-country stock and the reduced ability to re-supply, we are suggesting that these are implemented until confirmation of adequate re-supply is in place,” it reportedly stated.

It is also believed to have suggested face masks could be re-purposed using various disinfection or sterilisation methods, including steam and UV disinfection.​

Medical staff wear PPE of gloves, eye protection, face masks and aprons, as they wait to test NHS workers at a drive-in facility run by Wolverhampton (AFP via Getty Images)

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of vaporised hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate certain masks and respirators for use by staff.

The leaked document said some of the last-resort measures would need to be reviewed and approved by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

In a statement, Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, said: “PPE is a precious resource and it is crucial that everyone in health and social care has access to the right protective equipment.

“All options are being considered to ensure this, including the safe reuse of items, but no decisions have been made.”

An HSE spokesman said: “In line with the government’s PPE strategy, it is right that, where possible, strategies for optimising the supply of PPE should be explored.

“We are discussing with Public Health England ways in which pressure can be eased on the supply chain. This includes potentially reusing certain equipment where it is safe to do so.”

At the weekend health secretary Matt Hancock declined to apologise to nurses forced to choose between treating patients or protecting themselves due to shortages of protective kit.

Priti Patel says she's "sorry if people feel there have been failings" over PPE

Cabinet colleague Priti Patel was criticised for saying she is “sorry if people feel there have been failings” in the government’s supply of PPE.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), told the BBC the latest leaked last-resort plans underlined “the urgency” with which this situation had to be sorted.

“The government must be honest about PPE supplies,” he said. “If [Public Health England] is proposing the reuse of equipment, it needs to be demonstrably driven by science and the best evidence in keeping with international standards, rather than by availability, and with absolutely no compromise to the protection of healthcare workers.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

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

Comments

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