A GP is appealing for help from people in Oxford to get better personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline staff in surgeries and nurses making home visits during the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Paul Ch’en, from the Jericho Health Centre on Walton Street, said the equipment provided by NHS England was 'highly inappropriate and an insult to the medical profession' and did not provide adequate defence against Covid-19.

NHS England guidelines state primary care workers should have plastic aprons, surgical masks, eye protection and gloves for any direct contact or care of possible and confirmed cases.

However, the World Health Organisation recommendations are for a greater level of protection including a respiratory mask, eye wear, a coverall and head cover.

Dr Ch'en said: “There is a sense of resignation amongst GP colleagues about what the NHS should actually be providing us with in terms of PPE gear (WHO standard).

"This is notwithstanding the shortages in even the downgraded PPE gear that is clearly inappropriate and most likely costing lives on the front line.

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"Many GP practices have not been given any eye protection and the boxes containing the surgical masks say they are out of date and we’ve been issued flimsy plastic aprons.”

Doctors' Association UK has set up a tracker app to assess frontline shortages.

It has received input from more than 1,500 medics from 250 hospitals and GP practices across the UK.

Oxford Mail:

Scrubs obtained

Data collated on Tuesday morning from the app showed 38 per cent of respondents reported no eye protection at all in the form of visors or goggles.

With traditional medical suppliers out of stock, Dr Ch’en has already resorted to having to buy limited supplies on eBay.

The extra equipment was bought using funds raised by Sir Christopher Ball, former Warden of Keble College, and his wife Wendy, who took a lead role in a campaign to help.

Some eBay sellers offered free kit after the situation was explained to them.

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Dr Ch'en said one eBayer even broke his three weeks of self-isolation to post his supply of FFP3 (N99) masks and offered it free of charge despite being in the high-risk category due to his chronic illness.

He added:“The people of Jericho have supported us generously; but perhaps other practices could raise emergency funds. In these difficult times, I feel some of the better qualities of humanity have shone through.

“Supplies have been understandably prioritised for hospitals, so we had no choice but to try and buy like this.

Oxford Mail:

Dr Paul Ch'en. Picture: Ed Nix

"I had a good response when I asked sellers if they would consider reducing their prices. Demand is so high that people are charging much more than usual. But these are not normal times and it makes it difficult to get the quantities we need.”

Now the GP is asking people who may have been supplied with equipment they do not need to offer it to their local GP surgeries.

Giving unwanted protective equipment, especially the higher quality respiratory masks, eye wear and coveralls to frontline healthcare professionals will make a 'huge difference' according to Dr Ch’en.

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He explained: “There are people who are self-isolating with unused equipment they will most likely not need.

"We are appealing to them to offer it to their local GP surgery, because anything is better than the inadequate kits we have been given.

"This will help to keep us at work and reduce our risk of contracting the virus and most importantly, help to serve our patients.”

Oxford Mail:

PPE gear obtained by Dr Paul Ch'en

Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, from Oxford University, who is leading a series of reviews of research surrounding PPE, said: "As Covid-19 deaths in the UK continue to escalate, the main story about PPE in the UK, and in many other countries, has become the lack of it.

"Primary and secondary care are running low on various items of PPE. Other key workers such as porters and cleaners are, allegedly, not always being supplied with it."

She added: "The media is buzzing with stories of visors being 3D printed in garden sheds, masks stitched together on kitchen sewing-machines, and small construction companies donating boxes of masks originally intended for use on building sites.

"Keeping the NHS in PPE has become the 21st century's Dunkirk."

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Dr Ch’en said anyone who finds the equipment they have is not wanted by their local surgery can contact him and he will ensure it reaches practitioners in need.

He added: “Community nurses, GPs and other healthcare professionals will continue to do their jobs, but remain vulnerable. I have spoken to colleagues in other surgeries who share the same concerns.

"We have seen hospital staff contracting the virus despite having PPE kit. It is especially true when patients we meet may have symptoms but be unaware they are ill.”

Dr Ch’en has already worked with Oxford-based eco-laundry Oxwash to ensure newly sourced scrubs are cleaned and decontaminated.

An NHS spokesperson said GP practices in Oxfordshire were still open and providing advice and support to patients with medical problems that are non Covid-19 related, with appointments initially on the telephone and the potential for a face-to-face review if needed.

They added: “Millions of FFP3 masks, surgical masks and other protective equipment have been dispatched to health services across the country, with every GP practice, dentist and pharmacy getting a delivery of this kit, and where there are issues with supply then our staff can raise any supply issues through the dedicated hotline, which is open 24/7.

“The NHS is continuing to work with the Royal College of GPs, the BMA and local NHS organisations to ensure that GPs and their teams are supported as the health service works to tackle coronavirus.”

Anyone with equipment they are happy to donate but their local GP practice does not want is asked to contact Dr Ch’en at jericho.two@nhs.net.