PPE- A guide to the ongoing crisis

In Oxford you might hear PPE and think of the academic course, however this guide is not going to tell you about a route into Parliament. Instead, I am providing a concise guide into scientific PPE which stands for ‘personal protective equipment’, how it is a way to protect ourselves during the pandemic and why we are in desperate need for more.

PPE works by acting as a barrier and preventing exposure to infectious germs. Many of these airborne particles we cannot see, but are extremely harmful. A few of the main forms of PPE are face shields/masks, gloves, gowns, surgical caps and goggles. Face shields prevent such germs gaining access to mucous membranes such as the mouth. eyes and nose by providing a cover for the face in the form of a sheet of clear plastic. This transfer of infectious material can occur when infected individuals cough, sneeze or talk.

Gloves prevent any of this droplet exposure coming into contact with the skin and this means for health care staff, replacing gloves routinely will discard harmful germs to protect patients coming in to be examined.

Similarly goggles, caps and gowns reduce the quantity of outside germs contaminating the eyes, hair and clothes which can be reassuring when staff return home to their families. The most common form of transmission of Covid-19 is through contact which is why PPE is vital.

PPE is one of the few ways we can help to protect ourselves and key-workers during this global pandemic however we simply do not have enough supply to meet the demands. On Sunday 19th of April 84 tonnes of PPE, due to arrive from Turkey, had been delayed. With simply not enough protection, frontline workers are being made to use alternative disposable aprons and advised to just wash their arms after.

The WHO advised that healthcare workers should wear long-sleeved gowns when dealing with Covid-19 patients yet Public Health England still advises aprons as an acceptable alternative. Some staff have even considered reusing PPE. Both these methods are not desirable and does not consider safety but rather availability.

This also means many front-line workers have threatened to not treat patients if they do not have PPE and we certainly can not afford to have less staff during this time. Many ministers are insisting that the shortage is part of a global demand for the equipment but that has left many unimpressed and sceptical of the government’s promise for more PPE.

PPE is one of the few ways we can help to protect ourselves and key-workers during this global pandemic.

Dr Rob Harwood, a committee chairman for the BMA (British Medical Association- which protects the rights of medical staff) said to the BBC: “Too many healthcare workers have already died.” And “It’s a real disappointment to us that the government has been unable, even after a month, to address this progressively worsening shortage of PPE.”.

Though the government are sourcing equipment such as the 10 million masks that recently arrived in Scotland from China, it is a worry the UK are acting too slow and as a result many healthcare professionals will carry on losing their lives. Not only NHS staff but those who work in care homes, paramedics and cleaners have also not been provided with PPE and in some cases told they do not require it, but they work in equally high-risk areas.

One measure that has been put in place to help this crisis is to appoint the Olympics chief executive and treasury minister Paul Deighton to lead a national effort to produce more PPE, which some compare to wartime Britain’s effort to produce fighter planes.

Some individuals have also taken it upon themselves to create PPE at home and send it to front-line workers, this is admirable but, in most cases, it can only be done on a local scale and is not sustainable long term. One can not help but feel that the government should be providing more during this time.

There is psychologically a lot of anxiety for the staff going into work every day without this equipment and understandably for the public too. Some doctors have said that patients are not getting the treatment they deserve as a result of the lack of PPE. In order to avoid wasting stock, doctors prevent checking up on their patients multiple times which is the usual procedure.

More PPE is needed today for all those in healthcare, not in weeks to come, and until we have appropriate protective equipment every day is a risk for our front-line staff.

Image credit:H Shaw