Government must come clean over protective kit shortages, says UNISON

The government must win back the confidence of NHS and social care staff amid growing anxiety over protective kit shortages, UNISON has said.

letter from the union to health secretary Matt Hancock urges the government to step up communication with health workers.

It says widespread confusion exists over what personal protective equipment (PPE) staff should be using. Contradictions between Public Health England and World Health Organisation advice are only adding to this uncertainty, says the letter.

Concerns are also growing that shortages are compromising employees’ and patients’ safety. UNISON is asking ministers to work with NHS trusts to clarify guidance urgently on PPE.

The union wants the government to ensure staff receive clear communication from senior managers and infection control leads within each trust or health board. Health workers need to know what masks, gowns and gloves they’re meant to have, when more supplies are arriving, and what to do in the absence of the correct PPE.

UNISON has also written to the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives outlining similar concerns. Ambulance crews countrywide have reported an absence of PPE and often won’t know until they get to the scene whether someone is displaying Covid-19 symptoms.

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “Over the coming weeks the entire country will be relying on NHS and social care staff. It’s vital the government acts immediately to reassure all health workers they’ll soon have everything necessary.

“While supply problems are being addressed, staff need to know that the government and their senior managers are doing everything possible to sort issues.

“Health workers need urgent clarification on what protective equipment is needed to do their jobs. Those in hospitals without the right supplies need to know when kit will arrive. And most importantly they need to know what to do if the equipment has yet to turn up or runs out.

“This crucial issue must be sorted now before the country hits the pandemic’s peak. Staff in hospitals, health clinics and ambulance stations are the ones who’ll be looking after us all, risking their lives to save others. They need a guarantee everything is being done now to keep them as safe as possible.”

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