PPE shortage endangered lives of health workers, Siptu says

Irish Medical Organisation calls for State to stockpile PPE in event of second wave

IMO said that in addition to stockpiling, the State should diversify suppliers and “create incentives to encourage local manufacturing of PPE”.  Photograph: Alan Betson

IMO said that in addition to stockpiling, the State should diversify suppliers and “create incentives to encourage local manufacturing of PPE”. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Frontline health workers were put at risk due to unavailability of personal protective equipment (PPE) in their workplace, trade union Siptu has said.

In a submission to the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19, it said while the delivery and distribution of PPE had greatly improved, its members had serious concerns about their experiences during the early days of the pandemic.

Siptu said a survey of its members found 77.03 per cent believed they now had enough access to PPE while 18.9 per cent felt they did not. Some 85 per cent felt they had sufficient training on the use of PPE.

In its submission, the union supplied a range of comments gathered from members, including that there was rationing of PPE to a degree that workers “were made feel guilty for asking for it”, and that supplies were particularly scarce in March and April.

Staff reported being told to sign a receipt for a pair of goggles, and being told to “mind them” as it was the only pair they would be given. The union was told that some staff had become “very sick before receiving full PPE”.

Bad training

PPE training was reported to be “the worst-ever”, with a care assistant saying they were told “don’t be worried, it is like an ordinary flu”. Siptu also said its members were concerned about the reopening of services and the potential for exposure.

Siptu also said it had received many contacts from members concerned at the planned reopening of their particular service and the potential for risk exposure if appropriate procedures were not put in place.

The union said it had been told by the national occupational health adviser in the health service that “faulty or improper use of PPE accounted for approximately 4 per cent of all infection rates with healthcare workers”.

“While this figure may appear a low percentage of the overall tally, Siptu argues it represents a significant risk factor which should not have arisen if proper equipment and training was in place at the outset of the pandemic”.

The trade union Fórsa told the committee that it had received many reports of health and social care professional staff “who [were] reassigned to duties directly related to the pandemic response and whom became infected”.

“Even those with the mildest of symptoms and effects at the time of infection, report that almost three months later, they feel that they are only close to full recovery now.”

Global scramble

Elsewhere, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has suggested that the State should stockpile PPE to prepare for a possible second wave of the virus rather than “risk having to compete in a global scramble” for the equipment again.

In a submission to the committee, the IMO said that in addition to stockpiling, the State should diversify suppliers and “create incentives to encourage local manufacturing of PPE”.

The IMO notes some 30 per cent of healthcare worker cases were linked to an outbreak in a nursing home, residential institution or community hospital/long-stay unit, while only 8.6 per cent were linked to outbreaks in hospitals, which “is likely due to more robust supply chains for PPE in hospitals”.

The HSE will also appear at the committee. In a submission, it says that it identified new markets and suppliers for PPE during the crisis, which saw an “unprecedented” rush for equipment as healthcare providers around the globe competed for the same supplies. This saw demand up to 100 times normal levels, with prices rising 20 times higher than usual.

There was also “gouging”, with hospitals and governments forced to pay a “hugely inflated price” for equipment.

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