Doctors ‘feel like lambs to the slaughter and cannon fodder’, said the chair of the Doctors’ Association UK yesterday morning, demanding that frontline NHS workers must be tested for coronavirus and provided with more protective equipment.
Dr Rinesh Parmar was speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr show after finishing a night shift.
Marr said: ‘You are one of 5,000 doctors who have signed a letter to the prime minister saying that the NHS staff are being treated like cannon fodder. What do you mean by that?’
Dr Parmar replied: ‘At the Doctors’ Association we’ve been hearing over the last few days and weeks from doctors across the country who are really particularly worried about the lack of personal protective equipment that they have been seeing on the front line.
‘We’ve had doctors tell us that they feel like lambs to the slaughter, that they feel like cannon fodder, GPs tell us that they feel absolutely abandoned.’
As of yesterday morning, the letter to Johnson co-ordinated by the Doctors’ Association UK who advocate for frontline doctors, had garnered 6,300 signatures.
It read: ‘We are 3,963 frontline NHS staff who are pleading with the prime minister to intervene to ensure we have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) when facing the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘Frontline doctors have been telling us for weeks that they do not feel safe at work. Intensive care doctors and anaesthetists have told us they have been carrying out the highest-risk procedure, putting a patient on a ventilator, with masks that expired in 2015.
‘Paediatricians have told us their stock of protective glasses and masks will run out in 48 hours, including in special-care baby units.
‘An acute medical doctor reported the stock of masks had already run out at one trust last weekend.
‘GPs have told us they feel abandoned; many have been left without any protection for weeks and do not even have simple masks to protect them if a patient comes in with symptoms of Covid-19.
‘This is unacceptable. NHS staff are putting their lives on the line every day they turn up to work. The reality is that many of us will get sick.
‘Doctors are all too aware of the possibility that they will lose colleagues, as has happened in outbreaks around the world. It is therefore deeply upsetting to hear dedicated healthcare professionals say they feel like “cannon fodder”.
‘NHS England has stated that the national supply of PPE has been “adequate” and any shortage is a local distribution issue. While this may be the case, it is not encouraging to see NHS England passing the buck.
‘We want to see action immediately. The supply of PPE in the coming weeks must be stepped up as we see a surge in cases.
‘If it is not, the public will be endangered and dedicated NHS staff could lose their lives. It is time for the prime minister to demonstrate his commitment to the NHS and protect the lives of the life-savers.’
The doctors’ trade union, the BMA, has also sent a letter to PM Johnson on the same issue.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: ‘While we have been advised by government that there are sufficient central stocks of the supply of PPE, the reality is that doctors on the frontline are experiencing shortages and many are extremely anxious over the adequacy of the equipment currently being provided to healthcare professionals.
‘At a time when we need our NHS more than ever, staff must be properly protected and should not be exposing themselves to high-risk situations where they could become infected – this could have a potentially devastating impact on our workforce capacity and effectiveness of our already stretched health service.
‘There is further concern that the advice from WHO and Public Health England differs in relation to what doctors should be wearing to protect themselves, and it’s essential that we get clarification on this as soon as possible, along with the right equipment to follow guidance correctly.
‘As the letter lays out, we also need to see NHS staff and their household members prioritised in testing.
‘Significant numbers of NHS staff are self-isolating for up to 14 days not knowing whether they have the virus or not, removing them from frontline duties and leaving their colleagues in ever more stretched working environments.
‘Doctors are increasingly contacting us stating that they want to return to work if they and their household are negative for the virus, but cannot do so due to a lack of being tested.
‘Every day that goes by is resulting in increased shortages of frontline staff and we urge the prime minister to enable this to happen with immediate effect.
‘NHS staff are working tirelessly to keep the public safe during these uncertain times, but the only way we can truly guarantee that is if we are given the resources we need, not only for our own protection, but also, and more importantly, that of our patients.’