PPE could be reused as a 'last resort' if stocks run low

15 April 2020, 07:29

Gowns and masks could be reused if stocks run low
Gowns and masks could be reused if stocks run low. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Some protective gowns and masks could be reused by health workers as part of "last resort" coronavirus plans revealed in a leaked Public Health England document.

The document says that the equipment would need to be cleaned before being reused when stocks run low due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The British Medical Association said this "underlines the urgency" of protective equipment shortages while the Health and Safety Executive said it was right that, where possible, "strategies for optimising the supply of PPE should be explored".

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The BBC has reported some hospitals have already been forced to clean single-use gowns to preserve stocks.

It is understood that the chief medical officers and chief nurses of the four UK nations recently discussed the issue with the document being issued following the meeting.

Public Health England drafted the report which suggested solutions for "acute supply shortages" of PPE.

"These are last-resort alternatives, but, given the current in-country stock and the reduced ability to re-supply, we are suggesting that these are implemented until confirmation of adequate re-supply is in place", it said.

The plans suggested a series of "last-resort arrangements", including buying "building" or "sportswear" eye protection with extensions to cover the side of the eyes if there are no available goggles or face shields, and using washable laboratory coats and patient gowns where there are no available disposable gowns or coveralls.

It also suggests re-purposing face masks using various disinfection or sterilisation methods, including steam and UV disinfection.

The document said some of the last-resort measures would need to be reviewed and approved by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

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Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), said: "This underlines the urgency with which we need this situation sorted.

"The Government must be honest about PPE supplies.

"If (Public Health England) is proposing the reuse of equipment, it needs to be demonstrably driven by science and the best evidence in keeping with international standards, rather than by availability, and with absolutely no compromise to the protection of healthcare workers."

In a statement, Dr Susan Hopkins, from PHE, said: "PPE is a precious resource and it is crucial that everyone in health and social care has access to the right protective equipment.

"All options are being considered to ensure this, including the safe reuse of items, but no decisions have been made."