Nurses are refusing to treat critically ill coronavirus patients due to a lack of proper protective equipment, frontline NHS workers claimed on Monday.
Staff at a major London hospital at the centre of the outbreak warned that elderly patients were dying needlessly because nurses were at severe risk of catching the virus themselves.
Around 10 staff at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow are being treated by their colleagues after falling ill while treating patients, a senior nurse told The Telegraph.
Two weeks ago, the hospital became the first in the country to declare a critical incident after running out of intensive care beds due to a surge in coronavirus patients.
It comes amid a major row over personal protective equipment (PPE), with medics across the country complaining they are being put at risk by a lack of equipment including gloves, masks and aprons.
On Monday, the head of the Royal College of Physicians revealed that around one in four NHS doctors are off work sick or in isolation. Three frontline doctors have so far died after being diagnosed with coronavirus.
“Our patients are dying not because of Covid-19 complications but because they are not getting the level of care that they need to recover,” said the senior nurse at Northwick Park.
Confused elderly patients who need constant monitoring because their oxygen masks slip off were at the greatest risk, she added.
“Some patients are non-compliant with O2 – especially the elderly patients – and we can’t get in every 10 minutes to be with them due to insufficient PPE. That means deaths.
“We have almost 400 positive, and around 140 patients in the intensive care unit. We haven’t got the proper respirators, and the insufficient PPE is compromising our care. We’ve had to buy our own stuff in DIY shops. We have colleagues who have fallen ill, and they are crying with pain and anxiety.
“Nurses are staying home and others are refusing to treat patients unless they are given the proper equipment.”
On Monday, the London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust denied that nurses had been staying at home for fear of catching the virus. “There is no evidence of any kind that such behaviour has contributed to patient deaths,” a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, it emerged that gowns for frontline staff were not included in the national pandemic stockpile of personal protective equipment.
Alan Hoskins, chief officer at the Health Care Supply Association, tweeted that he could not order the products through NHS Supply Chain even after escalating the matter to NHS England.
“What a day, no gowns NHS Supply Chain,” he said in a tweet that was later deleted. “Rang every number escalated to NHS England, just got message back – no stock, can’t help, can send you a PPE pack. Losing the will to live, god help us all.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was “unacceptable” that some staff are treating patients without PPE.
Dame Donna Kinnair, the RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “I am hearing from nurses who are treating patients in Covid-19 wards without any protection at all. This cannot continue. They are putting themselves, their families and their patients at risk.
“Every minute we wait is a minute too long. All nursing staff, no matter where they work, must feel safe. We need action, we need equipment, we need it now.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said it had issued millions of pieces of equipment and set up a national helpline so those in need can ask for more.
Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, told a Downing Street briefing on Sunday that 170 million masks, some 42.8 million gloves, 13.7 million aprons, 182,000 gowns, almost 10 million items of cleaning equipment and 2.3 million pairs of eye protectors were being delivered to frontline staff.
He said: “Every single GP practice, dental practice and community pharmacy has had a PPE delivery. All care homes, hospices, and home care providers have, or will shortly, receive a delivery.”