Dire PPE shortage affecting morale: Study

Matt Woodley

24/04/2020 5:01:40 PM

Of the more than 350 healthcare workers surveyed, around 60% reported being less willing to work than usual.

Stressed out doctor.
Many healthcare workers fear infecting their families due to inadequate PPE supplies.

The Edith Cowan University (ECU) study found around half of the doctors, nurses and paramedics who responded to the survey did not have access to the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to do their job safely.
Nearly 70% of participants said they have been asked to ration their use of PPE, while around 30% noted that colleagues have resorted to using non-traditional or non-vetted forms of PPE, with doctors more likely to report this than nurses and paramedics.
Associate Professor Erin Smith and Dr Brennen Mills from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences said doctors are more likely overall to report a lack of access to PPE, in particular face masks, face shields, gowns and hand sanitiser.
‘Just over 20% of all participants reported being tested for COVID-19,’ Professor Smith said.
‘Thirty per cent have chosen to physically isolate themselves from other members of their household, including sleeping in different bedrooms or moving out of the family home in an attempt to protect loved ones.
‘We [also] found 17% of participants had undergone a period of self-isolation due to work-based exposure to COVID-19. Doctors were more likely to do this than paramedics or nurses.’
Participants said they were more concerned about being exposed to COVID-19 at work compared to in the community and 61% are worried they will be infected with COVID-19. More than three quarters reported concerns that their colleagues would be infected.
However, the survey highlighted that the health and wellbeing of loved ones, particularly those within their immediate households, generates even more anxiety. More than 80% were concerned about exposing family members to the virus, and for 41% this concern was rated as ‘extreme’.
‘They are worried that by doing their jobs, they could potentially go home and infect their loved ones,’ Professor Smith said.
‘They have every right to be concerned with the thousands of healthcare workers around the world infected and hundreds dead.’
Professor Smith said the findings help ‘crystallise’ a difficult ethical dilemma – at what point does the risk to personal safety and concern for loved ones begin to outweigh the desire to work?
Already, nearly 80% of participants have reportedly started weighing their professional obligation (‘I should work’) with personal risk (‘I could get infected, I could infect my family’), and around 60% said they are less willing to work than usual.
Doctors and nurses were more likely to report an impact on willingness to work compared to paramedics, which the researchers said potentially reflects the greater difficulties hospitals and general practice clinics have had accessing PPE, compared to the emergency pre-hospital environment.
The lack of access to PPE was strongly associated with levels of anxiety and stress, particularly for doctors and nurses. It was also directly related to how safe healthcare workers felt doing their job, with 80% feeling less safe now than before COVID-19.
Compounding issues related to a lack of PPE, according to the survey, is inadequate communication between employers and healthcare workers. Around half of all participants believed their workplace was failing to do everything possible to protect them.
‘There were clear concerns regarding the perceived transparency and timeliness of communications from employers, particularly around PPE,’ Professor Smith said.
‘Our frontline workers need to know how much PPE there is and when they are likely to run out, and what we are hearing is that this clear information is not coming.
‘These results are important as they paint a clear picture of frontline troops in the war against COVID-19 struggling to access the PPE they need to protect themselves.’ 
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
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Dr Margaret Anne McAdam   25/04/2020 6:20:49 AM

Ppe is available on the internet. It’s at inflated prices but it’s there. What GPs need is an injection of cash eg$10000 like Tasmanian Drs got to help them purchase it at a time when cashflow has been reduced.

Dr Antje Theilhaber   25/04/2020 7:58:44 AM

Absolutely agree with the article. As a clinic owner, we need to source PPE privately, and local suppliers we found are now telling us government is buying everything. PHN has supplied us with 25 surgical masks - so ridiculous- that’s not enough to protect staff. If politicians could just stop saying, general practices are being supplied with PPE from national stock pile- it is just laughing stock. We are keen to provide our patients with vaccinations and start doing cervical screening again- knowing we will have enough PPE for the next 4 weeks would be lovely. At the moment our practice manager needs to count gowns, gloves and masks. If enough- we can take bookings for vaccinations etc. Also the amount currently spend for mental health support for health care professionals could be massively cut, by just providing us with enough PPE and allowing us to work in a way, that we now general practice can cover the real cost of their work, to stay open for our patients.

Dr Susan Margaret McDonald   25/04/2020 11:42:22 AM

Early on in the pandemic when we didn't know how few cases we would have in Cairns,
I had to see a patient in her car with PPE made from plastic bags and aprons. We had no N95 masks so I had to use a surgical one. It was demoralising but I trusted that we would soon get some from the PHN. Fat chance! They just scoff when we ring but our relationship has never been good.
I have now bought P95 masks and visors on line and friends have sewn me cloth ones if needed.
If we had had a pandemic like Europe or the US it would have been disastrous and I do feel General Practice has again been let down and marginalised.

Dr Surendar Kumar Advani   25/04/2020 12:03:54 PM

i can send free of cost to any GP.

Dr Graham William S Cato   25/04/2020 4:37:08 PM

We have had no complete PPE after the 1st week and have not received ANY advice as to whether we will ever receive any.

Dr Pauline Joyce Waterhouse   26/04/2020 1:19:36 PM

AMA Queensland advised on 17th April that PPE was being distributed to "Commonwealth funded RACFs and NDIS providers [service commenced this week]".

The elderly and the disabled are provided with PPE when we front liners are still begging.
We don't have the sympathy vote or the lobbying power.

Dr Helen Margaret Badenach   12/07/2020 8:37:26 AM

The management of the entire pandemic and all associated issues has been a total dog's breakfast and could not have been worse if they tried.
I have yet to see any healthcare worker in proper PPE!
I assume someone is responsible and I would like to meet them!
To top it off, hospitals have now essentially banned all hospital visitors when all they need to do is ask each family to nominate a visitor and get them covid tested and provide evidence of Flu vax then they will be better than most hospital staff in terms of infective risk.
It is totally unsafe and inhumane having patients in hospital without someone from family visiting.
I will never forgive admin /health department for their behaviour - I know personally that they have deliberately on daily basis restricted/prevented staff from using adequate PPE - I think it is criminal- and healthcare in this country will never recover.
I hope those responsible are held legally responsible for their actions in the future.