NHS staff will have to treat coronavirus patients without full-length gowns as hospitals are set to run out within hours, it emerged tonight.
Public Health England is set to tell frontline staff to wear a flimsy plastic apron when gowns have run out – which could lead to more hero healthcare workers contracting the virus.
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The guidance will be a U-turn on existing advice which told NHS staff that full-length waterproof surgical gowns should be worn for all high-risk hospital procedures, The Guardian revealed.
Prof Keith Willett, who has been leading NHS England's response to the coronavirus crisis, has helped formulate the guidance, which will be sent to all 217 trusts in England later.
Hospitals that still have full length gowns will have to lend them to others, while anyone without will have to make do with aprons instead.
A source with knowledge of the plan told the Guardian: "The new guidance will say 'this is what you do if you don't have any gowns'. Wear an apron instead – that will be the new policy for the foreseeable future, though the medical organisations will go mad about that."
It comes as the head of an NHS Trust in Southern England revealed how he had asked for help from a British fashion company, fearing his staff will soon run out of hospital gowns.
The man, who wished to remain anonymous, asked the BBC for a phone number for Burberry, which has recently retooled its trench coat factory in Castleford, West Yorkshire, to begin PPE production.
Shadow health minister Justin Madders said the amount of key workers still without protective equipment was a "scandal".
"Workers have been sounding the alarm for weeks now and the Government has had months to put things in place," he said.
"It is outrageous that supplies keep running so low, protecting those staff who are risking their lives every time they go to work should be an absolute priority.
"Ministers need to make good on their promises, sort out the supply issues and work to make sure no staff member feels unsafe because of a lack of PPE. It is no good making grand promises if they later turn out to be undeliverable."
GOWN SHORTAGE ALTERNATIVES
There are three main options that can be considered as alternatives if gowns are not available:
· Reserve disposable, fluid repellent gown/ coveralls for AGPs and surgical procedures
· Disposable, non-fluid repellent gowns/ coveralls with a disposable plastic apron for high-risk settings and AGPs with forearm washing once gown/ coverall is removed
· Reusable (washable) surgical gowns/ coveralls or similar suitable clothing (e.g. long-sleeved laboratory coat, long-sleeved patient gown, industrial coverall) with a disposable plastic apron for AGPs and high-risk settings with forearm washing once gown/ coverall is removed. These would need to be washed in a hospital laundry and capacity for hospital laundries may need to be increased.
In tonight's daily coronavirus briefing, Business Secretary Alok Sharma was asked about the reports.
He said: "I completely understand that people will be worried if there are shortages aware of supply issues that have been raised.
"It is a global supply issue – everyone is trying to get access to PPE.
"We are working night and day in terms of making sure we procure more PPE."
In response, The Department of Health said: “We are working round the clock given the global shortage of gowns and other PPE to secure the NHS and the social care sector the equipment they need.#
“New clinical advice has been issued today to make sure that if there are shortages in one area, frontline staff know what PPE to wear instead to minimise risk.
“This has been reviewed by the Health and Safety Executive, and is in line with WHO and CDC guidance on PPE use in exceptional circumstances.
“There is a 24 hour NHS-run helpline where NHS and social care workers can call to report shortages in supply and it is crucial the relevant guidance for protective equipment is followed closely.”
Join our George Cross campaign for NHS staff
SUN readers are today urged to sign a petition calling for our NHS staff to be awarded the George Cross.
Yesterday, we backed a proposal by Lord Ashcroft to honour our health heroes with the gallantry gong given for acts of bravery that did not take place in battle.
A No10 spokesman said: “The NHS is doing a fantastic job and the nation will want to find a way to say thank you when we have defeated this virus.”
SAS hero Andy McNab added: “The award of a George Cross would show an emotional appreciation.”
We are asking readers to sign the petition online at thesun.co.uk/georgecrossfornhs.
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