“We feel like lambs to the slaughter!” frontline NHS dietitians cry out for PPE

The British Dietitian Association is calling for more PPE for its members, after more than half of them reported a lack of safety equipment.

The BDA says dietitians are a vital part of the ICU team, supporting patients to get the right nutrition whilst intubated on a ventilator – and afterwards – to give them the best possible chance of survival and recovery.

Amongst the government’s clear failings on PPE, the BDA is particularly concerned that the PHE guidance does not even recognise the fitting of Naso-Gastric or Naso-Jejunal tubes as an Aerosol Generating Procedure (AGP).

The weight of scientific evidence, and significant expertise and experience on the frontline, is clear that these procedures are high risk and warrant full PPE. An explanation of the scientific case is included within the union’s joint letter to Public Health England.

The BDA has been raising these concerns with PHE and the government, together with a wide range of other professional bodies and royal colleges, for some time.

CEO and general secretary Andy Burman said: “Guidance on the equipment required to keep healthcare staff safe should be based on the scientific evidence, not political expediency.

“The weakness of government guidance on PPE, combined with their ongoing failures to secure stocks, increases the danger faced by our members, as well nurses and other AHPs as they undertake their life saving work every day.”

Fitting NG or NJ tubes is the only way to feed patients who cannot consume food normally, including if they are ventilated as a result of COVID-19. Ensuring sufficient nutrition and hydration is vital to help people survive and recover from COVID-19. This important task is undertaken by skilled ICU nurses and dietitians, it involves close proximity to patients and can cause coughing and sneezing.

By choosing not to define this as an AGP, the government allows employers to deny dietitians and nurses “full” PPE when performing these high-risk procedures.

The BDA is calling on PHE to recognise the high-risk nature of fitting and removing NG &NJ tubes and provide adequate PPE for all NHS staff.

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