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Doctors in England advised to reuse gowns as shortage persists

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Healthcare staff across hospitals in England are being advised by the UK government to consider reusing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns as it battles to deal with a shortage of supplies due to rising demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Public Health England updated its guidance on PPE to say that some should be considered for reuse based on advice on suitable decontamination arrangements obtained from the manufacturer or supplier.

Gloves and aprons are subject to single use as per SICPs [Standard Infection Control Precautions] with disposal after each patient or resident contact, notes the guidance.

Fluid repellent surgical mask and eye protection can be used for a session of work rather than a single patient or resident contact; gowns or coveralls can be worn for a session of work in higher risk areas, it adds.

Doctors and nurses are being recommended to reuse washable surgical gowns or coveralls or similar suitable clothing such as long-sleeved laboratory coats, long-sleeved patient gowns or industrial coveralls, with a disposable plastic apron for aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs).

Unions representing healthcare workers have expressed concerns about the updated Public Health England guidance.

If it’s being proposed that staff reuse equipment, this must be demonstrably driven by science and the best evidence rather than availability and it absolutely cannot compromise the protection of healthcare workers, – Dr. Rob Harwood, Consultants Committee chairman at the British Medical Association (BMA) doctors’ union.

“Too many healthcare workers have already died. More doctors and their colleagues cannot be expected to put their own lives on the line in a bid to save others, and this new advice means they could be doing just that. It’s not a decision they should have to make,” – Dr. Rob Harwood

Chris Hopson, chairman of NHS Providers, which represents healthcare trusts across England, said some National Health Service Trusts could run out of crucial PPE over the weekend.

“We have now reached the point where the national stock of fully fluid-repellent gowns and long-sleeved laboratory coats will be exhausted in the next 24 to 48 hours,” – Dr. Rob Harwood

The UK government has said that a global shortage of PPE has led to constraints but that it was working on addressing the issue, including asking manufacturers such as Burberry to reinvent their production lines and produce medical gear.

“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 minimize risk,” – Department of Health spokesperson.

The shortage of PPE across UK hospitals and care homes has been a persistent issue through the coronavirus pandemic, with ministers repeatedly pledging to address the issue.

I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and have PPE fall from the sky in large quantities, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons Health Committee recently.

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