Hospital doctors call for urgent action on provision of PPE

By Michael Woodhead

17 Aug 2020

Hospital doctors have written to federal government health minister Greg Hunt to express alarm about the quantity and quality of available PPE as more than a thousand healthcare workers have been infected with COVID-19.

The Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) has taken the action over concerns about lack of supplies of PPE for healthcare workers or provision of PPE below the necessary standard – especially N95 masks – to protect against COVID-19. The college also warns the minister that “fit-testing” of masks is not routinely available in high-risk environments.

“ANZCA respects that Commonwealth and state health departments have the responsibility to set standards for PPE, particularly for public health services. However, there is growing concern that the quality and quantity of available PPE is not meeting those standards or community expectations,” says college president Dr Vanessa Beavis in a 12 August letter to the minister.

“The college notes that it is the responsibility of every employer – whether government, public or private health services – to provide a safe work environment. Simply complying with standards is no guarantee that this obligation is met.”

ANZCA also says it has doubts about whether the official guidance on PPE is keeping pace with the evolving evidence and real-world experience about infection risks from COVID-19.

“The growing numbers of infected healthcare workers suggest that the current standards may not be sufficient in all of the current circumstances. The position on the ground in this pandemic is changing rapidly as new risks arise and better evidence is available.

“The college therefore urges government and hospital leaders to maximise workplace safety for healthcare workers.”

The college’s letter follows a landmark case in the UK where a healthcare professional is facing a fitness to practise investigation for delaying attending to a Covid-19 positive patient because they did not have access to adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

The case, believed to be the first of its kind,  came to light after regulatory lawyer Andrea James tweeted about it.

The medical community reacted to the news with outrage, the tweet receiving almost 1,000 retweets and comments and over 2,000 likes.

James, who described the reaction to her tweet as ‘astonishing’ said she was unable to reveal the gender of the healthcare professional or their specific profession.

It is currently unclear which regulator is investigating the healthcare professional.

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