A shortage of protective equipment for nurses is 'fundamentally compromising' the care they can offer people during the coronavirus pandemic, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.
Nurses are also putting their own safety at risk, the RCN's chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair urged.
Medical staff fighting the coronavirus are being forced to, in some instances, share personal protective equipment (PPE), buy their own, or even reuse kit - despite repeat assurances more equipment is coming, it said.
The RCN union said critical supplies of PPE is simply not reaching the front line.
UCL hospital staff seen here scrubbing up in London while attempting to battle Covid-19
In an April 6 letter to the chairman of the parliamentary Health Committee, and former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, Dame Kinnair claimed NHS nurses are having to choose between a 'sense of duty', against their own safety and that of their families.
'Nursing staff are at the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic,' she wrote. '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.
Medical staff are pictured practicing loading and unloading a stretcher from an ambulance outside the NHS Nightingale Hospital in East London
'Our members are facing impossible decisions between their own or their family's health and their sense of duty.' she added.
In the letter Dame Kinnair goes on to describe how NHS staff are forced 'to share equipment, buy their own supplies or to reuse single-use PPE'.
'Although there are announcements that millions of pieces of PPE are being distributed, they aren't reaching the front line across all health and care settings,' she adds.
A world-wide need and therefore shortage of protective equipment essential in combating coronavirus has led to a shortfall in NHS supplies.
The government has announced that millions of pieces of the kit have been issued and communication lines have been set up to ensure NHS staff can get it to where it is most needed.
However, the Royal College of Nursing gave evidence to the Health Committee's coronavirus inquiry, saying: 'Actions to mitigate PPE distribution is regarded by our members to have been too slow and not transparent.'
It added that public announcements of more protective equipment for the NHS had not translated into material increases that are 'accessible' or 'adequate'.
'Without adequate and proper PPE, nursing staff are putting their own lives, the lives of their families and patients, at risk. This situation is unconscionable,' the RCN said.
The Royal College of Nursing also drew attention to the fact that PPE and hand sanitiser was 'acutely lacking' for those working in GP surgeries and care homes.
It added that inadequate supplies meant health workers are 'breaching statutory obligations'.
The RCN is calling for an intervention by the government's own Health and Safety Executive.