Some personal protective equipment (PPE) could be reused by NHS staff as part of “last resort” plans to deal with shortages, according to a leaked document from England Public Health.
A spokesperson for Public Health England confirmed that “safe reuse of items” was under review, but that no decision had yet been made.
The document indicates that protective masks and gowns may need to be washed and reused when stocks are low and admits that there is currently “reduced ability to restock” PPE, the BBC reported.
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Some hospitals have already started cleaning single-use gowns to preserve inventory, according to emails seen by the broadcaster.
The plans would also include the purchase of “construction” eye protection or “sportswear” with extensions to cover the side of the eyes if there are no glasses or face protection available.
Health workers may also be required to wear washable lab coats and patient coats when disposable coats or coveralls are not available.
It is understood that the Chief Medical Officers of Health and Head Nurses of the four British nations have recently discussed the matter. Following the meeting, a draft document prepared by Public Health England and dated April 13 suggested solutions to the “acute shortages” of PPE.
“These are alternatives of last resort, but given the current stock in the country and the reduced replenishment capacity, we suggest that these be implemented until confirmation of adequate replenishment is in place. place, “he reportedly said.
It is also believed that face masks could be reused using a variety of disinfection or sterilization methods, including steam and UV disinfection.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of vaporized hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate certain masks and respirators for use by personnel.
The disclosed document indicates that some of the last resort measures will need to be reviewed and approved by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
In a statement, Dr Susan Hopkins of Public Health England said: “PPE is a valuable resource and it is crucial that all health and social workers have access to the right protective equipment.
“All options are being considered to ensure this, including the safe reuse of items, but no decision has been made. “
An HSE spokesperson said, “In line with the government’s PPE strategy, it is fair that, wherever possible, strategies to optimize the supply of PPE are explored.
“We are discussing with Public Health England ways to reduce the pressure on the supply chain. This includes the ability to reuse certain equipment where it is safe to do so. “
Over the weekend, Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to apologize to the nurses who were forced to choose between treating patients or protecting themselves due to the shortage of protective kits.
Cabinet colleague Priti Patel has been criticized for saying that she is “sorry if people believe there have been failures” in the government’s supply of PPE.
Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, president of the British Medical Association (BMA), told the BBC that the latest plans of last resort disclosed underscored the “urgency” with which this situation should be resolved.
“The government must be honest about the supply of PPE,” he said. ” Yes [Public Health England] proposes the reuse of equipment, it must be clearly motivated by science and the best evidence according to international standards, rather than by availability, and without any compromise for the protection of health care workers. “