Additional reporting: Maresa Fagan and Paul Hosford
As the Covid-19 death toll here continues to grow, doctors fighting the pandemic are demanding a clear timeline as to when those on the frontlines will no longer be put at risk from the use of substandard personal protective equipment (PPE).
A further 22 deaths linked to Covid-19, and 424 new cases of the virus, were confirmed yesterday, bringing Ireland’s death toll to 120 people.
With healthcare workers making up approximately a quarter of all confirmed cases here so far, health staff have widely criticised the standard of the protective equipment brought in from China upon which they are now having to rely.
“It is unacceptable to expect frontline healthcare staff to work without proper protection,” the Irish Medical Organisation said. It welcomed the acceptance by the HSE that there are problems with the recent supply from China, as well as commitments to pursue changes to future orders and source alternate suppliers.
“However, we must again stress that doctors and other healthcare workers need assurances on the issues around PPE — the supply lines and the timelines in which the issues will be addressed in an open and transparent way,” the IMO stated.
It said frontline medical professionals must have access for the appropriate PPE for their roles so as to protect themselves and patients while working in what are already highly stressful environments.
The current demand worldwide for PPE is beyond anything that has been experienced before, Dr Colm Henry, the HSE chief clinical officer said. “It’s clear that in a worldwide deficit, with some countries running out, our priority is to secure as much stock as we can.”
Up to 60 deliveries are expected from China, and each is being assessed by the HSE as it arrives to see what is fit for use in our hospitals, what should be re-categorised, and what should be sent back, he added.
“Of course we’d prefer to be in a different position, getting the exact specifications that people want in peacetime — but this isn’t peacetime. There is a worldwide shortage. In some cases, countries have run out. We want to get as much stock as we can get in and deliver the right stock to the right people to be used in the right situation.”
Dr Henry did not give an exact figure for the proportion of the first PPE consignment that is unusable.
“Some of the masks categorised as respiratory masks are more usefully categorised as surgical masks. Some of the elements where we expected long-sleeve gowns are more akin to bodysuits,” he said.
Finance minister Paschal Donohoe said that the PPE bought in the last week will be tested and put to good use. Mr Donohoe was involved in the decision to increase the spend on equipment for frontline staff from around €15m to more than €200m.
“The Government is taking the issue of how we procure this equipment as being an issue of the utmost priority. But as we do so, we do so in a world where this equipment is being sought by nearly every country in the world,” he said.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has also called on the HSE to provide nurses and midwives with facemasks at a minimum.
“Several of our midwife members have been in touch with concerns about a lack of PPE in maternity services. It’s clear to us that some level of PPE should be in use in all healthcare settings, including maternity services. There is still a risk of infection in a space that is not specifically designated for Covid-19 treatment or diagnosis,” said an INMO spokesperson. “We have written to the HSE nationally, seeking a new policy to recommend at least facemasks for all healthcare workers in all settings. We are still awaiting a response.”
Meanwhile, consultants working in private practice have been urged by their representative body not to sign a temporary contract on their role in fighting coronavirus, due to “outstanding issues”.
Earlier this week, the Government announced plans to avail of 19 private hospitals around the country for three months in a bid to boost the capacity of the healthservice. The private consultants are currently assisting with the Covid-19 response, but discussions on the locum contract have been ongoing between the Irish Hospital Consultants Association and the Department of Health and HSE. The IHCA said the consultants should not sign the contracts as some “outstanding issues” remain.
Issues with the first batch of PPE will be addressed in subsequent orders, the HSE said in a statement, adding that it is very grateful to its Chinese partners for facilitating.
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