‘We are dying’ due to still having inadequate PPE, claim nurses

Guidelines currently restrict most staff to wearing surgical masks and thin gowns when dealing with COVID-19 positive patients.

Matt Bodell
4 June 2020
We are dying upgrade our PPE

The protest called for better for NHS workers in line with international standards.

Yesterday nurses protested again outside Downing Street calling for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), better protections for Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) staff, and a full review of pay.

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Nurses United UK claims that Public Health England (PHE) is “directly responsible for the lowering standard of PPE that NHS staff use daily” – restricting most staff to wearing surgical masks and thin gowns when dealing with COVID-19 positive patients rather than using full gowns and FFP3 respirators recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

At least 245 health and social care professionals and through to have died from COVID-19. While BAME NHS staff only make up around 20% of the NHS workforce, a massive 64% of the NHS staff who have died from COVID-19 have been from these communities.

Last month, PHE commissioned an investigation into why BAME staff are disproportionately affected, but while the report identified an increased risk it failed to provide any recommendations to protect these staff.

A recent survey highlighted that BAME staff has poorer access to eye protection, gowns, and had a lack of training.

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The Government has also made no commitment to review pay rise for NHS staff, despite their hard work during the pandemic. In contrast, France’s Health Minister has already promised staff a “significant” pay rise for their efforts during the pandemic.

Malcolm Bennison, a nurse in London who helped organise the protest said; “When everyone was asked to shelter, nurses met the challenge along with other key workers. We were subject to the most exposure without the necessary protection. Nursing is the lowest-paid degree-only profession in the country. We are safety-critical professionals and we are asking for fair recognition of our work.”

Rachel Ambrose, a mental health BAME nurse in Oxford added; “Nurses and midwives are the largest group of professionals within our NHS; with 1 in 5 from BAME backgrounds.

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“The PHE review provided an opportunity to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 to BAME Nurses however yesterday’s heavily edited version doesn’t provide any answers for how we begin to address the fact that BAME groups are twice as likely to die from this virus.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson responded: “We are incredibly proud of our nurses working day and night throughout this pandemic. All 300,000 nurses on Agenda for Change have had a pay rise of at least 6.5%, while the starting salary for newly qualified nurses has risen 12% over the last three years.

“The independent NHS Pay Review Body makes recommendations to Government on pay increases for nurses and will be taking evidence and making recommendations on the next annual pay increase from April 2021.

“The UK PPE guidance was developed with NHS leaders in consultation with royal and medical colleges and recommends the safest level of personal protective equipment (PPE), following WHO advice.”

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