NHS staff to be asked to treat coronavirus patients without gowns

NHS bosses are preparing to ask doctors and nurses to work without full-length gowns when treating Covid-19 patients as hospitals across England are set to run out of supplies within hours, the Guardian has learned. The guidance will be a reversal of Public Health England (PHE) guidelines stipulating that full-length waterproof surgical gowns, designed to stop coronavirus droplets getting into someone’s mouth or nose, should be worn for all high-risk hospital procedures. In a significant U-turn, PHE is set to advise frontline staff to wear a flimsy plastic apron when gowns have run out, in a move that doctors and nurses fear may lead to more of them contracting the virus and ultimately put lives at risk. Prof Keith Willett, who has been leading NHS England’s response to the coronavirus crisis, has helped formulate the guidance, which will be sent to all 217 trusts in England. They will include hospitals which still have gowns lending each other batches of them, wearing coveralls – one-piece items of personal protective equipment (PPE) which cover the whole body – and using plastic aprons as alternatives. The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, has also warned that doctors’ lives are being putat risk by stocks of PPE having reached “dangerously low levels”. That is the pressure point at the moment,” Hancock told MPs on the Commons health and social care select committee in an evidence session on Friday morning. Gallery: Companies leading the fight against coronavirus (Lovemoney) The health secretary sought to reassure MPs by stressing that 55,000 more gowns were due to arrive on Friday. “The situation is so serious that some trusts will run out today and others over the weekend.” Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, warned that NHS England’s downgrading of the advice on PPE could result in more lives lost. Matt Hancock should have been completely candid about the level of personal protective equipment but is now fast losing the public’s confidence as the reality of severe shortages becomes clear,” added Davey. However, some senior figures in NHS England were “exasperated” about PHE’s earlier stipulation that staff in high-risk Covid-19 environments should wear full PPE, including a gown, and regard that as “excessive”. Dr Rob Harwood, chair of the BMA’s consultants committee, said: “The health and social care secretary today admitted he couldn’t guarantee that supplies of gowns wouldn’t run out this weekend, and now this illustrates the dire situation that some doctors and healthcare workers are finding themselves in.