United Kingdom

Exclusive: Three nurses forced to wear bin bags because of PPE shortage test positive for coronavirus

Three NHS nurses who were forced to wear bin bags due to a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) have all tested positive for coronavirus, The Telegraph has been told.

The three frontline staff were pictured wearing clinical waste bags on their heads and feet at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow last month. The hospital was the first in the country to declare a critical incident after being overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients.

Frontline staff told how they were contracting the virus from patients because bosses had failed to provide them with proper masks, caps and aprons.

It came as nursing leaders warned that a lack of protective equipment continued to "fundamentally compromise" the care they can give patients, despite repeated assurances from the Government.

According to a senior source at Northwick Park, the three nurses pictured wearing the bin bags were all diagnosed with coronavirus at a North London testing centre last week.

On one ward, more than 50 per cent of staff, including the matron and ward manager, were found to have contracted the virus, it is understood.

Staff at the hospital have been warned not to speak to the press about continuing shortages of PPE, the source said.

It comes after the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) suggested that the Government could be significantly underestimating the number of medics going off work due to coronavirus.

On Sunday, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, claimed that only 5.7 per cent of hospital doctors were off sick because of Covid-19, but an RCP survey of more than 2,500 frontline workers found the rate was actually 14.6 per cent.

Officials have said millions of pieces of kit have been distributed and a hotline has been established to help frontline staff get PPE where it is needed most.

According to the Royal College of Nursing's chief executive and general secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair, however, nurses are still being forced to share equipment, buy their own or reuse kit.

In a letter to the parliamentary health committee chairman and former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, Dame Donna said nurses are being forced to choose between their sense of duty and the safety of themselves and their families.

"Nursing staff are at the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic," she wrote in the letter, dated April 6. "Our safety and ability to care for patients is being fundamentally compromised by the lack of adequate and correct supplies of vital personal protective equipment and the slow and small-scale roll-out of Covid-19 testing.

"Our members are facing impossible decisions between their own or their family's health and their sense of duty."

A spokesman for London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Northwick Park Hospital, said: "We can confirm that a number of staff members working in our Covid-19 positive areas have tested positive for the coronavirus.

"This is unfortunate but not unexpected, as it corresponds with the experience of healthcare workers across the world. We are providing full support to those of our staff members who become unwell, and wish them a swift recovery."

Responding to suggestions that staff had been prevented from speaking out about shortages of PPE, the spokesman said: "We are actively working to support staff to raise concerns through the appropriate trust channels."

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