Royal Colleges call for rapid deployment of PPE and testing of workers across all levels of healthcare system

Publication date: 27 March 2020

Healthcare workers from domiciliary care to intensive care should be given the appropriate quantity and level of personal protection equipment (PPE) and rapid access to testing in readiness for Northern Ireland's Covid-19 surge.

Senior medical leaders across surgery, general practice, anaesthetics and intensive care medicine are calling on the NI government to show leadership to workers at every level of the health and social care system and deliver on appropriate safety measures.

Ensuring a readily accessible supply of appropriate PPE along with the provision of up to date guidance, as well as a uniform testing pathway for healthcare workers in every Trust area is urgently required and should be fast-tracked, the medical leaders stated.

The statement today (Friday 27 March) collectively represents thousands of medical professionals in NI from the Royal College of General Practitioners NI, Royal College of Surgeons (England), Royal College of Anaesthetists Northern Irish Board, Royal College of Physicians (Edinburgh), Royal College of Pathologists, Royal College of Radiologists, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Welcoming the statement today from the Health Minister Robin Swann on PPE concerns, and the updated Surge Plan published on 26 March, the Royal Colleges said appropriate supplies of PPE are essential to safeguard workers and patients.

"As medical leaders, we welcome the Health Minister's statement this morning and the Surge Plan letter published yesterday by the Permanent Secretary. We note the strong recognition of the commitment of healthcare staff but we urgently ask the Minister to address our concerns, with particular regard to PPE and fast track testing of healthcare workers.

"We recognise that these are worrying times for everyone, and frontline healthcare staff are no exception. Like everyone else, they are scared for themselves and their families in the face of so much uncertainty about this new virus. While we are encouraged by the release this week of 30% of the PPE stockpile, staff need confidence that they can now access the protective equipment they require to look after their patients safely.

"From domiciliary care through to intensive care, staff need immediate access to the right volume and most appropriate PPE for each setting. We urge the Minister to continue working closely with BSO and the Trusts to ensure this is in place for all staff as we enter this critical surge phase of the pandemic. 

"With regard to testing, our colleagues in HSC Laboratory Services have achieved so much in a short period, scaling up testing from 40 tests a day to over 600 and we are enormously grateful for these efforts. 

"Moving up to 900 tests a day is anticipated next week and two new centres will expand that capacity to 1100 tests a day. This needs to be progressed with great urgency. It is essential to the continued operation of our services that all frontline health and social care staff can access a uniform, clearly signposted testing pathway in each Trust.

"The increase in ventilator numbers to 179 in the coming days is a welcome measure for all those working in critical care and we look forward to the full availability of the additional 650 units that are currently being procured.

"The new Covid-19 assessment centres have been rapidly established in accordance with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance on reducing virus transmission. Centres like the one co-located at Altnagelvin Hospital will help us to slow transmission in the wider population and to frontline healthcare workers. They will optimise care for those patients who are exhibiting symptoms in an environment where GPs will have access to appropriate levels of PPE and appropriate examination facilities. The centres will ease pressure on GP surgeries, enabling family doctors to continue seeing patients with routine illnesses in the community. GPs are ready to face the challenge together with colleagues from across primary and secondary care.

"This is undoubtedly the greatest challenge our health service has ever had to face. We reiterate our support to the Minister and his team and stand united in our efforts to help our staff to do what they do best – looking after those most in need wherever they are."

Further Information

RCGPNI Belfast office: 020 3188 7721

Notes to editor

  1. Minister's statement 27 March 2020 
  2. The Surge Update letter from Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary for Health, Covid-19 – Preparations for Surge

The Royal College of General Practitioners is the largest membership organisation in the United Kingdom solely for GPs. It aims to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and to act as the 'voice' of GPs on issues concerned with education; training; research; and clinical standards. Founded in 1952, the RCGP has just over 50,000 members who are committed to improving patient care, developing their own skills and promoting general practice as a discipline. RCGP NI represents over 1300 members in Northern Ireland.

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