Backlash after health secretary says PPE should be treated as ‘precious resource’

PUBLISHED: 09:29 11 April 2020 | UPDATED: 10:08 11 April 2020

10 Downing Street handout photo of Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). Photograph: Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street/PA Wire.

10 Downing Street handout photo of Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). Photograph: Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street/PA Wire.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has been criticised after claiming that personal protective equipment (PPE) should be treated as a ‘precious resource’, implying that NHS staff were wasting it.

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Hancock claimed there was enough PPE to go around, but also cautioned against the use of protective gear outside of health and social care settings, saying hand washing, social distancing and staying at home are the best ways to keep safe.

“A front door is better than any face mask”, he added.

Hancock said: “There’s enough PPE to go around, but only if it’s used in line with our guidance.

“We need everyone to treat PPE like the precious resource that it is.

“That means only using it when there’s a clinical need, and not using more than is needed.”

He continued: “Last week, following extensive consultation with the medical royal colleges, all four UK governments have published updated guidance for what PPE to use in what circumstances.

“The PPE guidance included advice that many items of PPE can be used for a whole session, not be changed after treating every individual patient.

“Everyone is still protected but there’s still enough PPE to go round.”


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But health bodies expressed scepticism, said protective gear should not be a “precious resource”, and warned professionals would be angered by any suggestion that shortages are due to misuse.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) dismissed any suggestions that healthcare staff were “abusing or overusing” the equipment.

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday that no PPE was “more precious a resource than a healthcare worker’s life, a nurse’s life, a doctor’s life”.

Speaking later on BBC Breakfast Dame Donna said that every day she was hearing from nurses saying they did not have enough protective equipment.

Dame Donna added: “I take offence actually that we are saying that healthcare workers are abusing or overusing PPE.

“I think what we know is, we don’t have enough supply and not enough regular supply of PPE.

“This is the number one priority nurses are bringing to my attention, that they do not have adequate supply of protective equipment.”

The BMA medical union had warned on that PPE supplies in London and Yorkshire are at “dangerously low levels”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was “insulting” to suggest health care workers were “wasting” PPE.

Sir Keir tweeted: “It is quite frankly insulting to imply front line staff are wasting PPE.

“There are horrific stories of NHS staff and care workers not having the equipment they need to keep them safe.

“The government must act to ensure supplies are delivered.”

Defending the remarks, Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “It is really important to stress that people use the right amount of protective equipment.

“For instance, having looked at the evidence, the guidance was changed, with the support of the Royal College of Nursing and others, last week to say that you can use a gown for a whole session, a whole shift, rather than changing it when you treat each individual patient.

“That is an important change because it means we get through them less quickly and save precious equipment.

“It is very important to stress that point. I’m not impugning anybody who works for the NHS and I think they do an amazing job but what I am reiterating, stressing, is the importance to use the right amount of PPE, both to have enough and also to use it as the precious resource that it is.”

The row comes as the latest figures from the Department of Health and Social Care showed that as of Thursday there were 8,958 hospital deaths from the disease - an increase of 980 on the previous day.

Hancock said on Saturday that 19 NHS workers have died from coronavirus.

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