Coronavirus: District nurse voices Covid-19 PPE concerns

By Donna Traynor
BBC Newsline

  • Published
Health and social workers in the community see multiple patients dailyImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Health and social workers in the community see multiple patients daily

Health and social workers caring for Covid-19 patients in the community are not being given the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they need, a district nurse has told BBC News NI.

The nurse in Belfast said they are only being given aprons, gloves and masks.

“At the minute, every day is stressful,” she said.

A Department of Health spokesperson said they had "sufficient PPE supply to meet current demand and keep all those who work in HSC settings safe".

On Monday 5.5m pieces of PPE were delivered to Northern Ireland and a further delivery is expected in the coming days.

The nurse, who spoke anonymously to BBC News NI, said she and her colleagues' caseloads were increasing.

“It’s very stressful for families and staff with the challenges of equipment and having to ask management for the appropriate PPE to go into these patients," she said.

“And then you worry obviously when you’re coming home. Is there any trace on me? Is there anything I’m taking home? And this is not just about Covid patients, we are looking after all of our patients.

“I think I saw about 15 patients today and you’re worried you’re bringing something in or going into the unknown.”

The district nurse said that her colleagues were only recently told to wear masks and PPE “is not given freely”.

“We were told about three weeks ago we were only allowed to use masks where appropriate with patients who were presenting with symptoms, and we were told not to be basically wasting them,” she said.

“There have been multiple times when we have said to our managers, we do not feel safe going into these patients.”

She said members of the public have also questioned their lack of PPE.

“The public is asking: ‘Where’s your mask? Why are you not in suits?’

"They are assuming that this is what we’re being given.

“The equipment we are being given is very limited in comparison to the hospital.”

But she says there are health workers in the community who have “even less equipment than we have”, including community domiciliary teams and carers.

“I think staff in the community are very much at risk.”

The Department of Health said there "is a pressure on supplies and we continue to actively review projected demand in light of the current circumstances".

"We are working tirelessly to source PPE from every viable source," continued the spokesperson.

"The minister has underlined the vital importance of distribution and deployment to all frontline settings - and stressed that all staff must know where to turn within their organisations when they have concerns or questions."

A spokesperson for the Belfast Health Trust said all staff were trained to wear PPE "in accordance with the most up-to-date national guidance from Public Health England, including the use of masks for all staff coming into contact with patients".

"We have no concerns about the level of PPE stock available to us," he said.

Contact Tracing

The district nurse also said a lack of routine testing is another concern for staff.

“You’ve just to continue to work until you present with symptoms,” she said.

“Any staff members who’ve come up positive, it’s not being traced back to the patients who they are seeing.”

Image caption,
A consignment of PPE arrived in Northern Ireland on Monday

The nurse said the pandemic meant that she was not able to form the same relationship with her patients.

"You feel like you’re taking a step back and you’re not giving them the same care as someone else.

“I am frightened at the memories these people are going to have.

“And a lot of these patients are going to die on their own because we’re trying to say, like the hospital, people have to keep their distance.”