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Healthcare workers featured on the Hastings Makers for NHS and Keyworkers Facebook page.

Community rallies to tackle PPE shortages but  inadequate supplies elsewhere criticised

PPE shortages in Hastings surgeries have prompted an encouraging community response. Although the county’s healthcare trust says supplies in the key hospitals are adequate, healthcare workers’ representatives have criticised shortages elsewhere. Nick Terdre reports.

The grassroots initiative launched by Hastings Supports Our NHS Staff to procure and deliver PPE – personal protective equipment – to Hastings surgeries with scant supplies is making a difference, as are the efforts of individuals making masks and other items at home. One surgery which has benefited is Harold Road, where lead nurse Holly Blake, who made a call for assistance last week, this week posted her thanks on Facebook.

“I would like to say the most ENORMOUS THANK YOU to everyone who has donated PPE to us since Thursday. We’ve gone from having 5 days worth of equipment to around 14 days. We are all completely in awe and totally humbled by our community’s generosity and selflessness. The situation is far from over but thanks to you all, it’s just a little bit more manageable. What an incredible town to live in!”

Giles Duley of Hastings Supports Our NHS Staff, a Facebook group, confirmed to HOT that they had delivered items of PPE to the Harold Road surgery. They had also procured a couple of thousand pieces – gloves and aprons – which they were delivering to various surgeries around Hastings, as well as 100 visors which had been supplied to Conquest Hospital.

Plenty of demand was being received from surgeries, but working in cooperation with Heart, Hastings Emergency Action Response Team, there was no lack of volunteers to help make deliveries, Giles said. With the help of volunteer drivers from Heart, they had also made about 100 taxi journeys ferrying NHS workers around town.

Another spontaneous grassroots initiative is Facebook group Hastings Makers for NHS and Keyworkers, which now has 344 members. It has already managed to supply hundreds of face shields and headbands to hospitals, nursing homes, GPs and more across East Sussex, says administrator Reece Dreavyn. Having mostly been using its own resources, it appeals for donations of money and materials to keep the flow of supplies going.

The delivery of visors to the Conquest by Hastings Supports Our NHS Staff  does not quite chime with the message from the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust. A spokesman told HOT on Thursday that after some initial problems when the pandemic started, the trust’s hospitals were receiving a regular daily supply of PPE – just-in-time deliveries – which was adequate for their needs.

Critical care beds in East Sussex

East Sussex hospitals are not at present under the cosh.  According to the trust, there are currently a total of 65 critical care beds, all equipped with ventilators, in the two hospitals with these facilities, the Conquest and Eastbourne District General. Of these, about a third are occupied. The total number of coronavirus patients is around 70.

The original plan was to raise critical care capacity to around 100 beds, but depending on the modelling, it may not be fully implemented, the spokesman said – the situation is not as bad as previously expected.

Rainbow messages of support for NHS and care workers upstairs and down in Britanny Road.

Problems in the availability of PPE have been recognised by Sussex NHS Commissioners, who represent the three clinical commissioning groups in Sussex. In a statement they said:

“It is crucial that staff on the frontline in primary care have the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) so they remain safe and confident in their jobs.

“We are very aware of the difficulties some colleagues are experiencing in accessing PPE and we are working very hard to help ensure primary care and elsewhere in the health and care system have access to the appropriate PPE.

“We are working very closely with all of our local practices on a daily basis to respond to their PPE requirements and we have set up a mutual aid process between partner organisations across Sussex to provide support when all other avenues to receive PPE have been exhausted.”

Millions of items

By this weekend, one million PPE items will have been delivered to hospitals and other destinations, according to health secretary Matt Hancock. Last weekend the government said that 761m items had been provided, including 158m masks, one million gowns, 135m aprons and 360m gloves. The figure also included body bags, pulse oximeters, swabs, clinical waste containers, cleaning equipment and detergent.

It is unclear however to what extent this supply matches the need. In the case of gowns, for example, Hancock yesterday told the health and social care select committee that delivery was due to be taken of a further 55,000 gowns; however it transpires, according to The Guardian, that the NHS is using 150,000 gowns a day.

Hancock admitted that there were still problems with delivering PPE where it is needed. With supplies of gowns in some trusts running out, Public Health England has asked doctors and nurses to be prepared to wear plastic aprons which offer less protection. Staff have also been asked to reuse single-use equipment.

An official at Unite trade union is reported as advising its 100,000 healthcare members that they could decline to work with infected patients if crucial equipment was lacking. This echoes guidance last week from the Royal College of Nursing that as a last resort nurses should refuse to treat Covid-19 patients if PPE were insufficient.

Testimony to the risks run by healthcare staff in direct contact with infected patients is the number who have lost their lives. There have been 27 verified deaths of NHS workers so far, but The Guardian says it has noted 65 cases reported in the news. Assuming that some deaths have not made it into the public domain, the true figure may be higher.


This story was amended by Nick Terdre on 21 April 2020.

Posted 19:04 Saturday, Apr 18, 2020 In: Covid-19

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