NHS Medics: We Aren't Being Protected From Coronavirus – We Fear We'll Infect Our Families

“We’re doing our best in a bad situation. But I’m worried every day for my loved ones.”

“I’m risking my life and the life of my family,” said Joan Pons Laplana, an NHS nurse on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m going to work because I love helping other people. But I want the government to equip me properly – it feels like they’re sending soldiers to fight with water pistols. It’s unbelievable.”

As the UK descends into an emergency lockdown in a bid to stop the spread of Covid-19, NHS staff say the standard of protective equipment on the frontline of the outbreak is leaving them scared to go to work – and terrified they might infect their families.

“Every time my wife or daughter coughs, I just panic,” Joan said. “I’m paranoid – I’m checking their temperatures every day.”

He spent last week working in coronavirus test pods in Yorkshire. “I was quite surprised when I arrived – they just gave me a plastic apron, a pair of gloves and a surgical mask that didn’t even fit.

NHS staff at a coronavirus testing facility
NHS staff at a coronavirus testing facility
Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

“That was on Wednesday. By Friday, they told me I didn’t need the apron or the gloves – that the only thing I needed to do the testing was a mask.”

He continued: “When you see pictures from China, Italy and Canada, they have full equipment – they have everything.

“We’re one of the richest nations in the world and we don’t have the equipment we need to treat patients.”

It’s a topic that has dominated the news over the past few days – whether NHS staff, the people rushing forward to help the sick as everyone else is advised to remain at home, are receiving enough protection from the potentially life-threatening coronavirus.

NHS nurse Joan Pons Laplana at a coronavirus testing pod
NHS nurse Joan Pons Laplana at a coronavirus testing pod

According to Public Health England advice, medics should wear a specially fitted respirator mask in areas where “aerosol producing procedures” like tracheotomies and intubations are taking place, as well as a long-sleeved gown and eye protection.

In other instances where medics are coming into contact with patients who have – or are suspected to have – coronavirus, advice states they should wear a surgical mask, apron and disposable gloves.

But like many of the medics HuffPost UK spoke to, Joan said he did not think this kind of equipment was sufficient – and that it felt “inevitable” he would contract Covid-19.

“I’m sure that in the next few weeks I will have coronavirus,” he said. But he is doing everything he can to keep his family safe from the deadly virus.

“Every time I get home, all my clothes go in the washing machine at 90 degrees,” he said.

“I have a proper shower and a wash before I will even hug my daughter or speak to my wife. I don’t want to be responsible for them getting poorly and I just cannot afford to stay somewhere else.

“We’re doing our best in a bad situation. But I’m worried every day for my loved ones.”

Joan’s daily ritual of disinfecting himself when he gets home is one that Dr Asif Munaf – a medical A&E registrar in Lincolnshire – has also adopted in recent weeks.

Dr Asif Munaf said he was certain he will get coronavirus
Dr Asif Munaf said he was certain he will get coronavirus

“I get home at two or three in the morning,” Asif said. “I disinfect everything and put my clothes in a bag in the garage. I go upstairs just wearing my boxer shorts and shower – my wife leaves out a clean towel and clothes for me.

“I don’t speak to or touch my wife or my son until I’ve showered. It used to be a quick shower – now it’s more like 30 minutes in hot water.”

With a pregnant wife and two-year-old son who has been sick at home, he said his main fear amid the Covid-19 outbreak was passing it on to his family.

“Because I know that I’m going to get it,” Asif said. “I’m on the frontline. It’s like going into a shower and trying to remain dry – you can’t. No matter what you wear.

“In Italy, doctors are getting it at an alarming rate. So I know I will contract it at some point. It’s not if – it’s when.”

During each of his shifts in A&E, staff see “three or four cases of suspected coronavirus”, Asif said. “Of these – of the ones I see – probably 50% of them are positive.

“But I know that one day – probably in the next few days – there will be a shortage of masks, overalls, aprons and gloves.

“That’s a big fear for me. On Monday morning, when I woke up, I had a feeling of dread that I had to go to work. I’ve never had that before in eight years as a doctor.”

Another doctor – a trainee surgeon in Bristol, who asked to remain anonymous – said their fears over the effectiveness of protective equipment was leaving them “scared to go to work”.

The junior doctor and their team have been told they will soon be called in to help treat Covid-19 cases.

“We have been told we should just wear a simple mask, a plastic apron – the kind usually used by the catering team – and a pair of gloves,” they said.

“We have been told that everything that is not covered by personal protective equipment (PPE) should be considered contaminated. So our arms, our scrubs that we have under the plastic aprons, should be considered contaminated.

“Are we supposed to have a shower every time we see a patient that has been potentially exposed?” they asked.

“In other countries, medics are told to use proper surgical gowns to cover themselves. We don’t even have visors.

They added: “It makes us think that we are there just to look after patients until we get sick. That we are as disposable as these disposable gowns. That’s how it really feels.

“Everyone from the most junior doctors to the most senior consultants are scared about what we have been given.”

But things could be about to change. On Tuesday, health secretary Matt Hancock said he would “strain every sinew” to ensure NHS staff had what they needed to do their jobs safely.

“Millions more” PPE kits are due to be sent to medical facilities around the UK, with Hancock emphasising that more respirator masks were on their way to the frontlines.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the NHS told HuffPost UK: “The Department of Health and Social Care has secured millions more items of personal protective equipment which is going out to frontline staff, and every NHS and hospital trust in England should have received a delivery.

“While the NHS is using high quantities of equipment to protect staff and combat the virus, the full weight of the government is behind ensuring our staff have the high-quality protective equipment they need.”

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