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Covid-19: a nurse writes on the PPE shortage

The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortage is not just a simple matter of not having enough stock. The only masks which offer genuine protection against Covid-19 is the FFP3 mask. To use one requires professional training and fitting. But employers have moved at a glacial pace in rolling out training and, even now, thousands of front-facing NHS workers are not trained on how to use them.

What’s more, we are ill equipped. Trusts are blaming this on staff for theft and misuse. However, the thefts are few and far between and of course people will misuse products they’re not trained in. Either way, we were not adequately stocked and face daily struggles for PPE. Supply chain workers are going above an beyond to try and source supplies and trainers are working round the clock. But they’ve been set up to fail.

We are already so far behind. Now, in the absence of enough proper PPE, NHS England have downgraded their advice to allow bosses to pressure workers into using ineffective masks.

The problem gets worse. There are several companies who produce different FFP3 masks, and workers are only passed off as safe to wear the make they’ve been ‘fit tested’ on. But with shortages, units are just taking whichever masks they find available on a given day. So it is luck of the draw as to which masks are available for you to use at any one time. It’s a mad market system which is setting health workers up to get sick themselves and also pass the virus on to others.

For the most part people just have their own mask that they carry in their pocket and get out whenever they need it. However, they’re supposed to be single use only and disposed of in a certain way after each use. Repeat use is almost certainly going to transmit infection.

The government has also put a call out to ventilator makers. Several companies make ventilators, each with their own unique single-use only tubing and parts, each with its own unique programming. They all do largely the same thing but staff know how to use one or two brands but wont know how to use the others.

If there was a national health supplies service which researched, produced and distributed healthcare equipment, not only would it be more efficient and cheaper when done on a not for profit basis, but the engineers and inventors, whose research is not shared but rather used to compete on behalf of different companies, could instead be collaborating for the benefit of workers and patients. The bottom line is, right now lives will be lost as a result of the market system deciding how PPE is produced and how ventilators are made.

We need a fully public healthcare system, covering not only frontline delivery, but also including nationalised pharmaceutical industry and health supplies service. This crisis has starkly illustrated why allowing market forces and the profit system into our healthcare at any level costs lives.

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