Frontline nurses have been told to refuse to treat coronavirus patients “as a last resort” if they are not provided with suitable personal protective equipment. The advice came from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) as the UK coronavirus death toll surpassed 10,000 at the weekend.
The RCN issued new guidelines in response to the increasing number of NHS nurses who have died while working on the frontline in the UK, saying:
“Ultimately, if you have exhausted all other measures to reduce the risk and you have not been given the appropriate PPE in line with the UK Infection Prevention and Control guidance, you are entitled to refuse work. This will be a last resort and the RCN recognise what a difficult step this would be for nursing staff.”
The RCN has stated that it will provide legal assistance to nurses who choose not to treat those infected with the coronavirus without adequate PPE but warned that they could face criminal prosecution for corporate manslaughter in very rare cases.
They went on to recommend that nurses who choose to withdraw care should keep written justifications of their decisions and be prepared to face threats of being fired from their job as well as possibly facing criminal charges.
The Health Secretary defended the UK government’s record on PPE at the daily coronavirus briefing on Sunday, saying that there are “record amounts of PPE in the system.”
However, he has been criticised by the RCN for his recent comments during an interview on Saturday when he said that NHS staff should not be using PPE “more than it is needed.”
Dame Donna Kinnair, the RCN General Secretary, said in response that PPE was not “more precious a resource than a healthcare worker’s life, a nurse’s life, a doctor’s life.”
The new guidelines come as Sara Trollope, 51, a hospital matron who previously posed alongside Boris Johnson on a hospital ward, died from coronavirus. Sara, who was just months away from retiring when she contracted the virus, was a matron for older adult mental health services in Hillingdon.
A spokesperson for the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust paid tribute to Sara, saying: “She worked tirelessly with dedication, commitment and passion for older adult patients, always striving for the best care and outcomes.”
Matt Hancock paid tribute to the 19 NHS staff who have died after contracting COVID-19 at the weekend, saying:
He said: “19 members of the NHS family have died. My heart goes out to their families; these are people who have put themselves on the front line. I’m particularly struck at the high proportion of people from minority ethnic backgrounds and people who have come to this country to work in the NHS who have died of coronavirus. I find it really upsetting actually and it is a testament to the fact that people who have come from all over the world have come and given their lives in service to the NHS and paid their loves for that.”
The Health Secretary declared at the daily coronavirus briefing on Sunday that more than 42,000 NHS staff have been tested for coronavirus and that millions of items of PPE are being delivered to NHS staff each day.
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