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NO PROTECTIVE equipment is more important than the lives of healthcare workers, a nursing union has said, after ministers said it should be treated as a "precious resource".

Health Secretary Matt Hancock had said there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to go round if it is used in line with official guidance, and his goal is that "everyone" working in a critical role gets what they need.

But the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) dismissed any suggestions that healthcare staff were "abusing or overusing" PPE. RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Saturday that no PPE was "more precious a resource than a healthcare worker's life, a nurse's life, a doctor's life".

Speaking later on BBC Breakfast Dame Donna said that every day she was hearing from nurses saying they did not have enough protective equipment.

Dame Donna added: "I take offence actually that we are saying that healthcare workers are abusing or overusing PPE. "I think what we know is, we don't have enough supply and not enough regular supply of PPE. "This is the number one priority nurses are bringing to my attention, that they do not have adequate supply of protective equipment." The BMA medical union warned on Friday that PPE supplies in London and Yorkshire are at "dangerously low levels". New Labour leader Keir Starmer said on social media that it was "insulting" to imply frontline staff were wasting PPE. He added: "It is quite frankly insulting to imply frontline staff are wasting PPE. "There are horrific stories of NHS staff and care workers not having the equipment they need to keep them safe.

"The Government must act to ensure supplies are delivered."

Yesterday Home Secretary Priti Patel has said she was sorry if anyone felt there had been failings over the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Patel, fielding questions at a Downing Street briefing on Saturday, said she was "sorry" if people felt there had been failings regarding the supply of PPE. After being asked twice if she would apologise to NHS staff and their families over the lack of "necessary PPE", Ms Patel said: "I'm sorry if people feel that there have been failings. I will be very, very clear about that. But at the same time, we are in an unprecedented global health pandemic right now.

"It is inevitable that the demand and the pressures on PPE and demand for PPE are going to be exponential. They are going to be incredibly high.

"And of course we are trying to address that as a Government."

Mr Hancock acknowledged distributing masks, gloves, aprons and hand sanitiser to frontline workers is requiring a "Herculean logistical effort".

He told BBC Breakfast on Saturday it was important that healthcare workers use the "right amount" of protective equipment.

He added: "I am not impugning anyone who works for the NHS and I think they do an amazing job.

"But what I am reiterating, stressing, is the importance to use the right amount of PPE both to have enough and also to use it as the precious resource that it is."

On Friday Mr Hancock said every NHS hospital has received a delivery of critical PPE once every 72 hours, and over the next week this is being made daily.

"I can announce that over the next three weeks we're rolling out an online portal, allowing primary care and social care a system so that they can request from a central inventory, and this will mean that we can track demand in real time, and deliver according to need.

"This Herculean effort of enormous operational complexity, to get the right piece of equipment to the right person at the right moment - I pay tribute to the enormous efforts of all those who are making it happen," he said.

Wales' Health Minister Vaughan Gething had previously welcomed the UK Government PPE annoucement, saying: "It makes sense the four UK nations work together on procurement of PPE rather than compete against each other.

"In Wales, we are already working with businesses to manufacture more PPE. I have been overwhelmed by the swift and generous response from companies to help. We have been working hard to get PPE to frontline health and social care staff - so far we have distributed more than 8m extra pieces of PPE from our pandemic stocks, over and above the usual supplies, which are held by the NHS. We are also working with military planners to refine our distribution plans in Wales.

"New guidance on PPE has been developed for health and social care staff - it is really important this is followed and PPE is used in line with the guidance. Every piece of PPE kit used unnecessarily is a piece of kit which will not be available to a member of staff at risk.

"Frontline NHS and social care staff are working hard, in difficult circumstances, to care for people with coronavirus. It is vital they can do their jobs safely and with confidence. We must make sure they have the equipment to do that."

Meanwhile firefighters will start testing face masks for NHS workers and deliver medical supplies as they take on additional roles during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new agreement will see fire service staff transport PPE and test masks for frontline health workers to ensure they fit properly before use.

Firefighters have already agreed to drive ambulances, deliver essential items such as food to vulnerable people and retrieve dead bodies in addition to their core roles.

National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) chair Roy Wilsher welcomed the latest move but said he wanted to see other similar requests for help "agreed more quickly" to ensure support is "delivered at speed".

His comments come as negotiations around other requests for assistance remain ongoing, the NFCC said.

These include ambulance control room support, help with driving doctors to carry out home visits and teaching people to drive ambulances.

Mr Wilsher said: "This is further testament that firefighters across the UK are ready, willing and able to take on additional work, supporting the response to the current Covid-19 pandemic.

"While the agreement and dialogue is welcomed, I would like to see other requests being agreed more quickly.

"This would ensure additional support for local partners is delivered at speed."

TWO ARE JAILED FOR COVID-19-LINKED OFFENCES A 24-YEAR-OLD woman has been jailed for six months for spitting at an emergency worker while claiming to have Covid-19.

Joel Martinique Hall, of Pwllheli, appeared before magistrates in Mold after the incident in Pwllheli and later at Ysbyty Gwynedd.

During the hearing it was heard Hall was arrested on Tuesday and charged with 11 offences, including biting and spitting at an emergency service worker and claiming to have coronavirus. She was sentenced to six months imprisonment.

Mark Armstrong, North Wales Police county chief inspector for Gwynedd, said: "Assaulting Emergency Service workers at anytime is simply not acceptable, as is the disorderly behaviour that this female was responsible for in Pwllheli this past Tuesday afternoon.

"The fact that she has been charged and sentenced on first appearance for 11 separate offences, to six months immediate imprisonment, shows how serious the court has taken these offences against both the community and also the emergency service workers involved, who were simply doing their jobs within the communities they serve."

In Staffordshire a man has been jailed for 12 months after coughing in the face of two nurses in hospital.

Lance King, 30, of no fixed address, was taken to Royal Stoke University Hospital with suspected Covid-19 and coughed on two A&E nurses on April 6. He also urinated on the floor of the cubicle and scribbled on himself and items within the cubicle with a pen from the nurse's desk, Staffordshire


Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street

Medical staff wearing personal protective equipment at the door of the Respiratory Assessment Unit at Morriston Hospital in Swansea JACOB KING
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 12, 2020
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