Matt Hancock vows 'we won't rest' after NHS mask supply row grows

Health Secretary Matt Hancock vows ‘we won’t rest’ until all NHS medics have the masks and gowns they need as hospitals wait DAYS for restocking and the nursing union tells its members they can REFUSE to treat coronavirus patients if they feel unsafe

  • Health Secretary came under pressure at news conference this afternoon 
  • Nurse union said medics could refuse to treat coronavirus patients as ‘last resort’
  • Nurse Becky Usher, 38, critically ill on a ventilator after working without a mask
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

Matt Hancock vowed  ‘we will not’ rest to get vital protective equipment to NHS staff today as the main nursing union told its members they could refuse to treat coronavirus patients if they felt unsafe.

The Health Secretary came under mounting pressure at the daily news conference this afternoon as he revealed that under-pressure units face on average a two-and-a-half-day wait to be restocked with personal protective equipment (PPE).

He spoke after the  Royal College of Nursing (RCN) advised its members to refuse to treat coronavirus patients as ‘a last resort’ amid claims vital items like masks, goggles and gowns are still not reaching the frontlines.  

A spokesman for the union admitted that with-holding treatment would ‘go against every instinct’, but added that ‘their safety must not be compromised’.

One nurse, Becky Usher, 38, who works at Dewsbury and District Hospital in West Yorkshire, remains critically ill on a ventilator after treating patients without a mask.

When asked about the supply of PPE and if the government could commit to a date to deliver more PPE, Mr Hancock said: ‘It’s impossible because the quest is to get the right PPE to the right people on the front line at the right time across many millions of people across the NHS and social care.

‘I’m glad to say that effort is moving in the right direction, we now have record amounts of PPE that’s been put out into the system but until everyone gets the PPE they need then we won’t rest.’

When asked about the supply of PPE and if the government could commit to a date to deliver more PPE, Mr Hancock said: until everyone gets the PPE they need then we won’t rest.’

Becky Usher, 38, is in intensive care at Pinderfields hospital in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Experienced nurse Julie Omar has died, Worcester NHS Trust has confirmed

Ms Usher, who has a six-year-old daughter, pictured with her partner Martin Parker

The current international death toll from coronavirus

Mr Hancock said it was an ‘enormous effort’ and experts were currently trying to source more gowns.

He added: ‘They often don’t get thanks, the procurement experts because they’re not on the frontline, but by God do we need them to make sure that we can get all that PPE.’

He also  denied the Government had been too slow to stockpile PPE earlier in the coronavirus outbreak and said supplies had been ‘significant’.

He said: ‘We went into this with the stockpiles, and the challenges are logistical ones of having previously had an organisation that serves just over 200 NHS organisations and the demand for PPE and the need for it has gone up enormously and there’s now 58,000 organisations that this huge logistical operation services.

‘So it has been a challenge of logistics as much as one of supply.’

He added: ‘At the same time of course we’ve got to replenish the stockpiles that we went into this with so we did actually go in with some quite significant stockpiles but of course given the sheer quantities that we’re distributing across the system we’re using those stockpiles up.’

The Health Secretary was also asked about the speed of delivering PPE, which had been said to be two and a half days.

Mr Hancock clarified that the two and a half-day figure was an average for people who called the 24/7 PPE hotline, and that urgent cases were dealt with ‘immediately’.

Ms Usher, who has a six year old daughter,  started suffering a high temperature and sore throat after spending two days treating a patient who had had not been tested for the virus.

When she started experiencing breathing difficulties and slurring her words on Tuesday she was rushed to Pinderfields Hospital in nearby Wakefield, where she remains in intensive care. 

The mother of a six-year-old daughter suffers an irregular heartbeat which has caused multiple heart attacks since 2004.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has backed nurses demands and criticised the government, saying there is a ‘mismatch’ between what Health Secretary Matt Hancock is saying and reports from the frontline.

A third of surgeons are treating patients without sufficient protective equipment, a survey involving 2,000 frontline workers and carried out by the RCN has found. 

Business Secretary Alok Sharma insisted on Sky’s Ridge on Sunday today that PPE was being sent out to hospitals.    

‘It is right that no medical professional should be placed in this position where they have to make that choice,’ he said.

‘That for me is self-evident. That is why we are making sure we get the equipment to the front line.’ 

He added: ‘I fully accept that it is up to the Government that we fix this.’

Later, rather than admit any Government failings, he told the BBC’s Marr: ‘I’m incredibly sorry that people feel they are not able to get this equipment.’      

Business Secretary Alok Sharma told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday today: ‘It is right that no medical professional should be placed in this position where they have to make that choice.

Ms Usher pictured with her sister Kelly Cardwell. She said the family is heartbroken they are unable to be by her side while she is in the hospital

Ms Usher’s sister Kelly Cardwell, 42, said the family is ‘heartbroken’ as they are unable to be by her side in hospital, where she remains in a critical but stable condition.

‘The hardest part is not being able to see her and not being able to see my parents, thinking we may not ever see her again,’ Kelly said.

‘Becky is bubbly, outgoing and has a heart of gold. She is also very stubborn and a fighter. ‘She is extremely popular and has so many friends wishing her well. She will be overwhelmed with the positivity and support she’s received.’

Kelly said staff were told by the hospital, which is run by Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, that they ‘didn’t need’ protective equipment as there ‘were no patients with coronavirus’, reports the Yorkshire Evening Post.

‘I believe they do have it now, but obviously a few days too late,’ she said. 

Kelly praised her sister’s fellow NHS heroes on the frontline fighting coronavirus, which has killed at least 19 NHS workers.

‘For the other NHS angels and key workers supporting everyone through this worrying and difficult time, we can’t thank you enough for the risk you are taking to save other’s lives,’ she said.

Kelly has penned a card for her sister urging her to ‘get well soon’ (pictured above)

‘Just know how much everyone truly appreciates the sacrifice you are making each day. The staff in ICU are doing a great job and we are grateful for the support Becky is getting.’

Kelly has posted a handmade card with a big red heart inside to Pinderfields, urging her sister to ‘keep fighting’. 

Becky’s partner Martin Parker, 40, said: ‘She told me off when the paramedics arrived. Said she was fine, but I knew she wasn’t.

‘The paramedic said ‘tell him off when you get home, but you’re going to hospital’.’

‘I miss her and I love her.’

The government has come under heavy criticism for not doing enough to provide frontline staff with personal protective equipment. 

MailOnline has contacted Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust for comment. 

New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the Government, saying: ‘It would be smart of the Government to acknowledge their ambition for equipment to be where it should be isn’t being matched, and to apologise for that and get on with it.’

Senior NHS officials have revealed that hospitals could run out of gowns for doctors after Priti Patel last night she is ‘sorry if people feel there have been failings’ over the supply of protective gear. 

Third of surgeons lack sufficient protective equipment, says survey

A third of surgeons and trainees across the UK do not believe they have an adequate supply of protective equipment to do their job safely, new research has found.

A survey of nearly 2,000 surgeons and surgical trainees, published on Sunday, also found that 57 per cent said there had been shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) at their organisations in the last 30 days.

The survey, carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), also found that 72 per cent of respondents believed widespread testing of the population would be necessary before the UK lockdown could end.

The RCS figures showed a wide regional variation in surgeons’ experience, with more than half in the Thames Valley saying they now have access to adequate PPE compared to about a third in the North West.

In London 33 per cent of respondents said they did not believe their NHS trust had an adequate supply of protective equipment.

The college warned that accessing protective equipment should not be a postcode lottery.

Its vice-president Sue Hill said there was still a lot more work to do to get an adequate supply of equipment to the front lines.

She added: ‘Things are going broadly in the right direction with fewer surgeons telling us there is an inadequate supply of PPE in their trust now, than over the past month.

‘But progress in this fast-moving crisis feels painfully slow.

‘PPE supply should not be a postcode lottery – the most acutely affected areas need more kit, fast.’ 

Memos that were leaked today warned of a ‘national shortage’ of the long-sleeved gowns that are needed to treat coronavirus patients. 

The revelation comes as the Government asked any companies which can manufacture gowns to sign up to their new plan to produce personal protective equipment. 

Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said in correspondence seen by The Telegraph that supplies of gowns could run out as soon as this weekend.   

The news came hours after Public Health England relaxed its rules and said that doctors could get away with wearing one-piece suits with a hood if gowns were not available.  

But new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the Government, there is a ‘mismatch’ in what Health Secretary Matt Hancock and frontline NHS staff are saying about the availability of PPE.

He said: ‘This is a difficult exercise, I understand the Government is trying to rise to the challenge here but there’s a mismatch and that’s the sort of thing that Parliament needs to pursue through individual MPs putting the points to ministers.’

Sir Keir, asked if nurses should follow Royal College of Nursing guidance and effectively refuse to treat coronavirus patients if they do not have the right protective equipment and clothing, replied: ‘They’re in a position to give guidance to those in their association and they should give that guidance.’  

Home Secretary Priti Patel last night said she was sorry if anyone feels there has been failings over the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. 

In an email sent on Thursday evening, Martin Barkley, the Mid Yorkshire chief executive, said: ‘I fully recognise the huge anxiety staff feel about this issue. Every day you are coming into work, leaving your families, putting yourselves in what must feel like a vulnerable and scary position in order to do the right thing by our patients. I want to assure you the trust is doing everything it can to secure further stocks.’  

The Government has issued a plea to all industries asking that any firms which can produce protective equipment to come forward. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel has said she was sorry if anyone felt there had been failings over the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic

Memos that were leaked today warned of a ‘national shortage’ of the long-sleeved gowns that are needed to treat coronavirus patients. Stock picture

Firefighters and the Army have been brought in to improve distribution of equipment, but health officials are still concerned that there won’t be enough to go around.     

One senior official involved told The Telegraph that London hospitals had been forced to negotiate directly with companies in China in a desperate attempt to get more supplies from them.  

‘The large teaching hospitals went out shopping in China, anywhere they could get their hands on these products, commissioning planes and negotiating with Chinese companies. 

‘This is some of the biggest market trading outside a trading floor that anyone has ever seen.’ 

It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed 19 NHS workers had now lost their lives after contracting Covid-19.

The Government has been dogged by criticism since the pandemic hit UK shores that not enough PPE was being made available to health workers, especially those working in social care.

Ms Patel, fielding questions at a Downing Street briefing on Saturday, said she was ‘sorry’ if people felt there had been failings regarding the supply of PPE.

After being asked twice if she would apologise to NHS staff and their families over the lack of ‘necessary PPE’, Ms Patel said: ‘I’m sorry if people feel that there have been failings. I will be very, very clear about that.

‘But at the same time, we are in an unprecedented global health pandemic right now.

‘It is inevitable that the demand and the pressures on PPE and demand for PPE are going to be exponential. They are going to be incredibly high.

Piers Morgan reacted with fury to the Home Secretary’s ‘apology’

‘And of course we are trying to address that as a Government.’

Piers Morgan reacted with fury to her ‘apology’ by tweeting: ‘Pathetic weasly words of non-apology for the Government’s shameful failure to properly protect our NHS staff.’ 

Ms Patel’s so-called apology comes as a row erupted between the government and nurses after Matt Hancock again cautioned coronavirus medics against overusing personal protective equipment.

The Health Secretary insisted there was enough protective clothing to meet demand, but urged health workers to treat the gear like a ‘precious’ resource.

His remarks, made this morning in a broadcast round, doubled down on comments made at yesterday’s Downing Street press briefing where he responded to reports from the frontline of a dire shortage of equipment.  

The Health Secretary insisted that there is enough gear to meet demand but should be treated by hospitals as a ‘precious resource’

But he was met today with a fierce backlash led by a top nurse who scolded the minister for suggestions that NHS staff were straying beyond the guidance. 

Frontline health staff are ‘dehydrated’ because they are skipping drinks in order not to waste personal protective equipment, a critical care nurse has said.

The nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, said staff felt they were being ‘lied to’ about masks, and the situation was being handled ‘horrendously’.

The health worker, from Manchester, hit back at suggestions staff were wasting equipment and said those working on her ward were afraid to take off their masks to drink, as this means they have to be thrown away, raising the risk of dehydration.

She said: ‘We are being lied to about what masks we do and don’t have, and they’re hiding ones we are running out of.

‘We can’t eat or drink enough because we can’t have water or snacks in the area and can’t take masks off.

‘And we’re too scared to drink too much when we’re out because if we need to go to the toilet then it means taking it all off again and wasting it, so we are all horribly dehydrated.’ 

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair also said that no amount of PPE was ‘more precious a resource than a healthcare worker’s life, a nurse’s life, a doctor’s life’.  

She told BBC Breakfast: ‘I take offence actually that we are saying that healthcare workers are abusing or overusing PPE.

‘I think what we know is, we don’t have enough supply and not enough regular supply of PPE.

‘This is the number one priority nurses are bringing to my attention, that they do not have adequate supply of protective equipment.’ 

Reports have emerged from the front line of health workers forced to treat patients in homemade protective gear made from bin bags and curtains. 

Mr Hancock yesterday assured that there is sufficient stock of face masks, gowns and gloves but admitted distributing them was proving a ‘Herculean logistical effort’. 

In the Health Secretary’s wide-ranging morning broadcast round:

  • Mr Hancock revealed that 19 NHS workers have so far lost their lives with the virus; 
  • Although the rate of hospital admissions is flattening, he begged the public to stay indoors this Easter weekend;
  • He said nobody knows if we have reached the peak of the epidemic, or when we will;
  • The minister rubbished reports that he and his team had not been observing social distancing measures;
  • Mr Hancock refused to be drawn on whether the government had been slow to initiate the lockdown.

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair scolded the minister for saying there had been ‘examples’ of PPE overuse

NHS England medical director Stephen Powis said he was confident there would be enough hi-tech FFP3 masks available to cover the length of the pandemic.

He also said officials were ‘working very hard’ on gown supplies, the use of which has been extended in light of last week’s updated guidance. 

Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Lib Dems, was critical of the Government’s response on PPE, which has seen the Army mobilised to distribute more than 760 million items across the country.

‘The lack of sufficient protective equipment is becoming a national scandal – many health and care staff clearly feel they’ve been sold down the river,’ he said. 

At yesterday’s Number 10 press briefing, the Health Secretary said that the UK supply of PPE stretch to meet demand if the ‘precious resource’ is ‘used in line with our guidance’.

Despite an overnight backlash to suggestions NHS staff have been flouting these rules, Mr Hancock doubled down on his remarks this morning.  

He told BBC Radio 4: ‘It is really important that people don’t overuse PPE either.

‘I don’t want to impugn blame on people who have used more PPE than the guidelines suggest because I understand the difficulties in the circumstances.

‘What I would say it is very important to use the right PPE and not overuse it.

‘Of course there have been examples but I don’t want to stress that because I also understand the circumstances in which people might have used more PPE than was strictly necessary according to the guidelines.’ 

New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also weighed in to condemn Mr Hancock’s remarks as ‘insulting’.  

He added: ‘It is quite frankly insulting to imply frontline staff are wasting PPE.

‘There are horrific stories of NHS staff and care workers not having the equipment they need to keep them safe.

‘The Government must act to ensure supplies are delivered.’

Nurses in PPE clap on a video at the coronavirus ward at West Cumberland Hospital

It comes as the UK recorded another 980 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday, bringing the national death toll to 8,958

The row comes as the Government is urging the public to stay at home over Easter, after the UK recorded its highest daily death toll from coronavirus since the outbreak began.

The latest figures from the Department of Health and Social Care showed that as of Thursday there were 8,958 hospital deaths from the disease – an increase of 980 on the previous day.

Mr Hancock also said it was still too early to determine whether the peak of coronavirus infections in the UK had been reached.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The good news is we have seen the number of hospital admissions starting – starting, I stress – to flatten out.

‘You can see (from the Government’s charts) that instead of going up exponentially, as they would have done if we had not taken the measures, that they are starting to come down and flatten.

‘We haven’t seen that enough to have confidence to make changes.

‘The answer to your question, about have we reached the peak, is nobody knows.’

Asked about the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, saying the UK was two weeks away from the peak, Mr Hancock added: ‘Our judgment is that we are not there yet and that we haven’t seen a flattening enough to be able to say that we have reached the peak.

Mr Hancock swatted away accusations that the UK had been to slow in initiating the lockdown.

He said that comparisons with Italy, which enforced social isolation weeks before Britain, were useless as Rome was far ahead of this country in the explosion of cases. 

The Health Secretary sadly confirmed that 19 NHS workers have died from coronavirus.

Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: ‘My heart goes out to their families, these are people who have put themselves on the front line.

‘The work is going on to establish whether they caught coronavirus in the line of duty while at work or whether, like so many other people, caught it in the rest of their lives. 

‘It is obviously quite difficult to work that out. What matters is we pay tribute to their service.’

Mr Hancock also rubbished reports that he and his team of advisers had not been observing social distancing measures in their meetings. 

He insisted he had been working at home where possible, but when he needed to go into the office, he had spread out the chairs to avoid person-to-person contact.  

Police have also revealed that 1,084 on-the-spot fines have been issued for breaches of coronavirus regulations in England and Wales.

Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said only a ‘small minority’ had failed to follow the Government guidance.

Mr Johnson announced a lockdown three weeks ago that banned travel outside of the home, except for exercise, to shop for essential goods, to go to a job that cannot be done from home or to provide care.

The fines were issued from across 37 forces, Mr Hewitt said, with a 21% fall in overall crime.

The announcement came after some forces were criticised for being heavy-handed in using beefed-up enforcement powers, with backlash on social media against the use of drones to patrol beauty spots and officers seen monitoring supermarket aisles.

‘Across all of those forces, that is an average of less than 84 a day,’ Mr Hewitt told the press briefing.

‘This shows that the overwhelming majority of people are abiding by the rules and are staying at home to protect the NHS and save lives.’

Mr Hewitt said police will publish enforcement data every fortnight during the crisis and defended forces that had ‘made mistakes’, saying they had ‘quickly sought to correct them’.

Ministers have so far ruled out putting a date on when the restrictions on movement and social contact will be curbed, with Mr Hancock and Ms Patel stressing the need for people to remain at home even during the good bank holiday weekend weather.

The news came after the Department of Health said a total of 9,875 people had died in hospital in the UK after testing positive for coronavirus as of 5pm on Friday, up by 917 from the same point on Thursday.

Mr Johnson is continuing to recover following his discharge from the intensive care unit at St Thomas’ Hospital where he was treated for coronavirus.

Ms Patel said the Cabinet supported the PM taking time to rest.

‘The message to the Prime Minister is that we want him to get better and he needs some time and some space to rest, recuperate and recover,’ she said.

Number 10 has refused to be drawn on how long he is expected to remain in hospital. 

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