It is “simply not acceptable” that frontline health staff were left with less than one day’s worth of PPE at the start of the pandemic due to poor planning, according to the chair of the BMA’s Scottish Consultants Committee.
Dr Graeme Eunson said that despite planning exercises having been undertaken, the NHS was not prepared for the pandemic.
It comes after an Audit Scotland report was published on Thursday which indicated that Scotland’s central stockpile of PPE ran “very low” in the early stages of the Covid-19 crisis.
The report also found that a surge in prices for PPE amidst increased demand cost the NHS £37.4m more than normal.
Speaking to STV News, Dr Eunson said he hopes that the lessons are learned from the report to ensure that the NHS is better prepared for future unexpected health crises.
“I think what we knew was that despite multiple planning exercises, the NHS simply wasn’t prepared for this pandemic,” he said.
“And the shortages of PPE, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic in April, that we all faced was part of that failure to plan, or failure to follow through on the planning exercises.”
He continued: “Central stocks of PPE were down to less than one day’s worth of supply for the staff on the frontline.
“It’s simply not acceptable for staff to have been put in that position due to poor planning.
“And we hope that the Audit Scotland report is going to allow the NHS to learn the lessons and make sure that both the remainder of this pandemic, but future unexpected health crises, are better prepared for to protect our staff and ultimately, protect our patients.”
Dr Eunson also said that some health staff struggled to acquire masks that fitted due to their design.
He said: “What we did definitely see at the beginning was that most of the personal protective equipment were designed for white, male faces, like mine.
“But, if you were a woman, which makes up the majority of the healthcare workforce, or someone from a different ethnicity, then you struggled to get a mask that fitted.
“And those are the groups who were most at risk because there weren’t enough masks to fit everybody and that was the pressure point that we saw a lot of.
“We saw a lot of lack of visors, a lot of hoods that would fit anyone, those were lacking, and as I said, often the masks that were available didn’t fit every face.”
He added: “There was a definite worry that you’d turn up to work one day and find out that the wrong brand of mask had been supplied and it didn’t fit and therefore you weren’t protected.”
Dr Eunson said that the government needs to be “ahead of the evidence” and to “plan for the worst case scenario”.
He said: “I think stock levels are now much better, but what we don’t yet know is if the transmission of this variant changes, if we believe that it’s moving away from being aerosol spread to airborne spread, then that will have a significant impact on the type of PPE that we need.
“Most people in the hospital setting are using simple fluid resistant surgical masks, but if we need the proper tightly fitting FFP3 masks for all patient interactions, that will create pressure on the system.
“So, the government needs to be ahead of the evidence and plan for the worst case scenario, rather than assume the best, because ultimately, it’s the staff that need the protection because without the staff, there is no NHS to look after our patients.”
Insight by political editor Colin Mackay
Hours away from running out of PPE in Scotland’s hospitals sounds pretty scary – and if you cast your mind back to April last year it was.
Doctors, nurses and care home workers were all warning about the risk they and patients ran because of a shortage of personal protective equipment after the outbreak of coronavirus.
Thursday’s Audit Scotland report lays bare how close we came to running out – just eight hours away in the case of long-sleeved gowns for medics.
Scottish Labour raised the report at First Minister’s Questions. Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that Scotland never actually ran out of PPE. Anas Sarwar said the message from the frontline was a bit different with doctors and nurses telling of having to reuse visors.
The First Minister said Scotland never had to rely on mutual aid for PPE from the rest of the UK, but England and Wales needed mutual aid supplies from Scotland. The point she makes is that PPE was in short supply all over the world.
At the start of the pandemic all of Scotland’s PPE was imported, at First Minister’s Questions she pointed out the majority is now manufactured here.
The point the opposition makes is that we should not have been so close to running out.
The point Audit Scotland makes is that it should never happen again.
This is just a small part of the story of how Scotland has handled Covid, for the whole story we will have to wait for a public inquiry. The questions for ministers on that is how long we have to wait.