The National Health Service (NHS) personnel in Britain still do not have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to deal with coronavirus patients.

The British Medical Association (BMA) stated their employees have been placing their lives at risk by operating without adequate protection.

It comes as Britain's health secretary said 19 NHS employees had died with coronavirus since the outbreak began.

(Photo : REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
A Cataldo Ambulance medic wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) arrives to treat a patient who has tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at an assisted living facility in Chelsea, Massachusetts, U.S., April 10, 2020.

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PPE shortage is a distribution issue

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that there needs more "works to do" to make sure those at the NHS frontline have the protective device they need.

Mr. Hancock stated that 761 million portions of PPE were delivered in the last couple of weeks. However, the distribution was still a challenge.

There are currently more than 1.7 million confirmed cases and at least 103,000 deaths from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak worldwide. But according to England's deputy chief clinical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, it is nonetheless "impossible to say [the country] have peaked."

The Health Secretary told BBC the government was searching into how NHS staff who died with the virus have been infected. However, he said it was crucial to say that some employees might also have caught it outside of work.

Hancock said he was "particularly struck at the high proportion of people from minority ethnic groups and [migrant workers] in this country to work in the NHS who died of coronavirus."

"It is a testament that people [worldwide] have come and given their lives in service to the NHS and paid for that with their lives," he said.

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Row over PPE going strong

The row over PPE has been growing more intense as doctors end up increasingly more frustrated that they are no longer getting the materials they need.

Doctors running in close touch with COVID-19 patients should have at the very least a surgical face mask, disposable apron, disposable gloves, and eye protection.

The BMA issued a survey of almost 2,000 responses on Tuesday, The Guardian reported. It said it showed more than half of doctors operating in high-risk environments reporting either shortages or no supply of face masks at all. At the same time, 65% stated they did not have access to eye protection. The figures have been even better among GPs in touch with COVID-19 patients.

Mr. Hancock is saying that there are massive logistical challenges concerned in scaling up the supply of PPEs. However, that is little consolation to healthcare people who feel they are being forced to risk their lives to perform their obligation of care to desperately sick patients.

Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said doctors have been being forced to make "heart-breaking decisions" over whether or not to work without proper protection.

"This is an immensely difficult position to be in, but is ultimately down to the government's chronic failure to supply us with the proper equipment," he said.

Precious resource

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has brushed off any notion that healthcare staff has been overusing PPE.

RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair told BBC no PPE is a "more treasured resource than a healthcare worker's life, a nurse's life, a doctor's life."

"I take offense actually that we are saying that healthcare workers are abusing or overusing PPE," she told BBC Breakfast.

It comes after Mr. Hancock warned on Friday that PPE should only belong to where it was most needed.

He said 742 million pieces of protective gear had been delivered so far. Hancock added there's enough PPE to go around, but only if it's used in line with the official guidance.

Susan Masters, national director of nursing policy and practice of the RCN, said the number of PPE being added would be impressive "when [nurses stop telling me] what they need to use wasn't available." 

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