While the public attempts to keep to a social distance of two metres, many NHS staff are being asked to examine patients suspected of coronavirus at a distance of 20cm – without the proper protection.
With potentially fatal implications, Dr Roberts says several departments within her hospital are now so fearful of what’s coming next, they have begun to hoard PPE for themselves.
“It’s about being pragmatic. The nurses on ITU (Intensive Treatment Unit) need it now. They are doing procedures which risk aerosol spread of the virus. But they’ve been told to wear normal theatre hats, which have holes in them and don’t provide any protection.
“It’s wrong. And that’s why we’re having to put bin bags and aprons on our heads.”
Several healthcare workers in England have told the BBC of a lack of equipment in their hospitals. Warned against speaking to the media, they were unwilling to talk publicly. However, one intensive care doctor from the Midlands wanted to go on record. The BBC agreed to change her name in order to protect her identity.
Dr Roberts describes a hospital on the brink. Intensive care is already full of coronavirus (Covid-19) patients. All operations deemed non-urgent, even the cancer clinics, have been cancelled. There is a lack of staff, a lack of critical care beds, a shortage of basic antibiotics and ventilators.
All this, combined with the looming uncertainty of what will be the expected peak, estimated to hit the UK around 14-15 April, means hospital staff are already feeling the strain.
However, nothing Dr Roberts describes is quite as alarming as the fact that these medical professionals, who continue to care for critically ill patients for 13 hours every day, are having to resort to fashioning personal protective equipment (PPE) out of clinical waste bags, plastic aprons and borrowed skiing goggles.
Public Health England has said all stockpiled pieces of PPE labelled with new expiry dates have “passed stringent tests” and are “safe for use by NHS staff”. But Dr Roberts says she is not convinced
PIX. Dr Roberts pulls expiry date stickers from the packaging on a face mask ed.
Currently ventilated and under her care are three of her colleagues, all of whom have tested positive for coronavirus.
One, an intensive care doctor working on a Covid ward, who like Dr Roberts only had access to inadequate protection.
The other two were both working on non-Covid wards and therefore were wearing no PPE. However, given their symptoms, Dr Roberts believes both of them contracted the virus while at work.