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Nursing chief blasts Health Secretary Matt Hancock over PPE

A row has erupted between government and nurses after Matt Hancock cautioned frontline medics against overusing personal protective equipment.

The Health Secretary insisted there was enough protective clothing to meet demand, but urged health workers to treat the gear like a ‘precious’ resource. 

His remarks were today blasted by a top nurse, who scolded the minister for suggestions that NHS staff were straying beyond the guidance.

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair also said that no amount of PPE was ‘more precious a resource than a healthcare worker’s life, a nurse’s life, a doctor’s life’.  

She told BBC Breakfast: ‘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.’ 

Reports have emerged from the front line of health workers forced to treat patients in homemade protective gear made from bin bags and curtains. 

Mr Hancock yesterday assured that there is sufficient stock of face masks, gowns and gloves but admitted distributing them was proving a ‘Herculean logistical effort’. 

In the Health Secretary’s wide-ranging morning broadcast round:

  • Mr Hancock revealed that 19 NHS workers have so far lost their lives with the virus; 
  • Although the rate of hospital admissions is flattening, he begged the public to stay indoors this Easter weekend;
  • He said nobody knows if we have reached the peak of the epidemic, or when we will;
  • The minister rubbished reports that he and his team had not been observing social distancing measures;
  • Mr Hancock refused to be drawn on whether the government had not been slow to initiate the lockdown.

The Health Secretary insisted that there is enough gear to meet demand but should be treated by hospitals as a ‘precious resource’

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair scolded the minister for saying there had been 'examples' of PPE overuse

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair scolded the minister for saying there had been ‘examples’ of PPE overuse

At yesterday’s Number 10 press briefing, the Health Secretary said that the UK supply of PPE stretch to meet demand if the ‘precious resource’ is ‘used in line with our guidance’.

Despite an overnight backlash to suggestions NHS staff have been flouting these rules, Mr Hancock doubled down on his remarks this morning.  

He told BBC Radio 4: ‘It is really important that people don’t overuse PPE either.

‘I don’t want to impugn blame on people who have used more PPE than the guidelines suggest because I understand the difficulties in the circumstances.

‘What I would say it is very important to use the right PPE and not overuse it.

‘Of course there have been examples but I don’t want to stress that because I also understand the circumstances in which people might have used more PPE than was strictly necessary according to the guidelines.’  

Nurses in PPE clap on a video at the coronavirus ward at West Cumberland Hospital

Nurses in PPE clap on a video at the coronavirus ward at West Cumberland Hospital

The row comes as the Government is urging the public to stay at home over Easter, after the UK recorded its highest daily death toll from coronavirus since the outbreak began.

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.

Mr Hancock also said it was still too early to determine whether the peak of coronavirus infections in the UK had been reached.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The good news is we have seen the number of hospital admissions starting – starting, I stress – to flatten out.

‘You can see (from the Government’s charts) that instead of going up exponentially, as they would have done if we had not taken the measures, that they are starting to come down and flatten.

‘We haven’t seen that enough to have confidence to make changes.

‘The answer to your question, about have we reached the peak, is nobody knows.’

Asked about the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, saying the UK was two weeks away from the peak, Mr Hancock added: ‘Our judgment is that we are not there yet and that we haven’t seen a flattening enough to be able to say that we have reached the peak.

The Health Secretary said that 19 NHS workers have died from coronavirus.

Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: ‘My heart goes out to their families, these are people who have put themselves on the front line.

‘The work is going on to establish whether they caught coronavirus in the line of duty while at work or whether, like so many other people, caught it in the rest of their lives. It is obviously quite difficult to work that out.

‘What matters is we pay tribute to their service.’

He added: ‘I’m particularly struck at the high proportion of people from minority ethnic backgrounds and people who have come to this country to work in the NHS who have died of coranavirus

‘I find it really upsetting actually and it is a testament to the fact that people who have come from all over the world have come and given their lives in service to the NHS and paid for that with their lives.

‘I think we should recognise their enormous contribution.’