Health Secretary facing backlash after warning NHS staff to not 'overuse' PPE

11 April 2020, 11:20

Matt Hancock is facing backlash for calling PPE a precious resource
Matt Hancock is facing backlash for calling PPE a precious resource. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is facing a backlash after he warned NHS workers to not "overuse" PPE.

The secretary of state said he did not blame any health workers who had used more personal protective equipment than was "strictly necessary" given the tough circumstances they face during the coronavirus battle.

"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," Mr Hancock said.

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

However, he has been criticised by the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for suggesting the equipment was being wasted and for referring to it as a "precious resource".

The RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said on Saturday that PPE was not "more precious a resource than a healthcare worker's life, a nurse's life, a doctor's life."

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Mr Hancock has warned people not to overuse PPE
Mr Hancock has warned people not to overuse PPE. Picture: PA

"I take offence actually that we are saying that healthcare workers are abusing or overusing PPE," she added.

"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 an adequate supply of protective equipment."

Mr Hancock defended his comments, saying there would be sufficient amounts of PPE across the country so long as it is used in line with official guidance.

He 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."

The health secretary stressed that he was "not impugning anybody who works for the NHS" but that it was important "to use the right amount of PPE, both to have enough and also to use it as the precious resource that it is."

Newly-appointed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said on Twitter it was "insulting" to suggest NHS workers were wasting the equipment.

"It is quite frankly insulting to imply frontline staff are wasting PPE," he wrote.

"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."

Read more: Coronavirus vaccine could be ready by September, Oxford professor says

The British Medical Association medical union warned on Friday that PPE supplies in London and Yorkshire are at "dangerously low levels."

Mr Hancock also dismissed reports that he was not following social distancing rules, following a report in the Health Service Journal that video conferencing images seen by the publication showed him "surrounded by 10 and 20 colleagues at times."

Asked if that was the case, he said: "No, not since the social distancing rules came in."

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

Meanwhile, the government is urging people not to go out "unless absolutely necessary" during the Easter Bank Holiday weekend 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.

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