Ambulance union’s anger at PPE supply

Ambulance staff serving Wigan feel like “cannon fodder” due to being issued with inadequate protective kit, a union has said.

Monday, 11th May 2020, 2:59 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th May 2020, 12:28 pm

Unison says it has a number of problems with the Public Health England (PHE) guidance which is the basis for decisions on personal protective equipment (PPE) made by the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS).

The biggest complaint is that staff are not allowed to wear masks they have bought themselves, with Unison asking NWAS to come in line with other ambulance services and fit test employees’ own purchases.

There is also a lack of long-sleeved aprons, particularly for serious incidents such as cardiac arrests, with the gowns being issued described as flimsy.

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Ambulances outside Wigan Infirmary

NWAS said the safety of crews responding to medical emergencies is a top priority and it is working with other health bodies to get more kit to front-line crews.

However, Unison said there were discrepancies between hospitals and ambulance services over what was allowed and what was not and said paramedics in the North East and in some southern English counties were getting to wear kit they have bought.

NWAS Unison branch secretary Jeff Gorman said: “Unison is disappointed that NWAS maintains its position of not allowing staff to wear their own masks, masks that are used by the NHS in emergency departments.

“We hope that they will change their position and fit test staff who have failed their tests on Trust equipment and allow them to use their own.

“Our members do not feel adequately protected on the back of PHE guidance and they have described themselves as being cannon fodder.

“A major issue is that we do not have any or very few long-sleeved aprons which are required for incidents such as cardiac arrests.

“This results in our members having to don a Tyvek suit, if one is available, or not go into the incident. This has resulted in paramedics complaining to us that they are being put into an impossible position . The standard aprons are thin and flimsy plastic aprons that you would wear making sandwiches.

“They do not adequately protect the uniform and it is entirely possible that the uniform could get contaminated with Covid-19 as a result.

“We have disagreements with NWAS but have to say they are simply following the guidance they have been given.

“NWAS, like all ambulance trusts, have a limited supply of PPE that is being ‘pushed’ to them so they are not necessarily receiving what is needed.

“As a union, we do have concerns about the guidance issued by PHE especially when it contradicts the evidence of the Resuscitation Council.”

Unison said around 20 per cent of NWAS staff are currently failing the tests for the masks which have to be sealed on the face.

Unison’s concerns partly match those by retired Wigan paramedic Mr Philip Roberts, who says he is alarmed by what he is hearing from ex-colleagues.

He said; “They’ve said the PPE they’re getting is not fit for purpose. One described it as like sending someone into a war zone with a pea shooter to tackle a tank. It’s totally inadequate.”

NWAS said it is in the process of sourcing more PPE and said it was receiving the same guidelines as the other ambulance trusts.

An NWAS spokesperson said: “NWAS follows the PPE advice and guidance of Public Health England (PHE) specifically set out for ambulance staff which is being followed by ambulance trusts across the country.

“The safety of our staff is of paramount importance to us.

“We want to ensure that they are as protected as they possibly can be and that the public have every confidence in us when responding to them. All frontline staff are currently being ‘fit tested’ to ensure that the masks they are wearing adequately protect them and we are now also working to supply personal issue respirator hoods for all frontline staff to further minimise their risk of infection.

“We continue to co-ordinate and liaise with NHS Supply Chain, PHE and NHS England on an ongoing basis so that we have the required PPE available to our staff across the trust.”