SCOTLAND’S nursing body has made a plea to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to personally intervene to ensure that staff have the right level of protective equipment when needed.

Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Scotland, said the issue of PPE, personal protective equipment, is not just one for those in hospitals up and down the country, but also for the mass numbers of nursing teams working tirelessly outwith a hospital environment.

She said there were large groups in Scotland of district nurses and nurses in care homes and across communities who all need equipment when dealing with patients face to face.

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“We have been getting reports of extremely concerned members that they don’t have adequate PPE. We need to get an accurate picture from health boards of what people have and what people need. That is why we wrote to the First Minister to address this issue.

“We have also had a number of calls from people working in district and community nursing saying they need aprons, masks, gloves and should have hand sanitiser and that they need help. And it is this type of thing which causes anxiety. Some staff are feeling unsure about things given the number of stories going about and it does scare them.

“There needs to be more understanding of what is the correct PPE, are they getting it, and if they are not getting it what is being done about it. It is all very well hearing that masks are in the pipeline. We have been told there are more on order, but we need monitoring as we need open reports to make sure equipment is getting through or not.

“Health boards and employers need to be open with us if they haven’t got any equipment, it is not a case of leaving it to the nurses to ring the RCN. It needs to be escalated and action should be taken.”

While the number of deaths in Scotland has increased to 22 and 719 people have been infected with coronavirus, Mrs Fyffe says that we still have time to make sure staff are prepared.

She added: “The pace of the spread of Covid-19 seems to be slightly different in Scotland than that in England, but there is a rising number of people infected and a rising of number of people who will be in hospital and that is why we are pushing these issues now as we have got to get ourselves ready.

“One of my main concerns is our nurses who are working in care homes. I am also concerned about our district nurses.

“This is a big issue for us. They are going into people’s homes. How are they meant to know if that person has symptoms? They want to do their jobs and look after their patients. That is why we are working with a number of health boards to get this right for our district nurses. We need them to be able to keep working and to care for people at home so that these people don’t end up requiring hospital treatment at a time when they cannot go back into hospital.”

Mrs Fyffe said the workforce needs the right resource and guidance when caring for people with coronavirus.

She added: “We will also be making it easier for our members to access information for training on the kind of equipment they will be required to wear. 

“They don’t have time at the end of a 12-hour shift to go through pages and pages of documents, so we are looking at shifting that online with quick videos they can access on our website.”

Staff safety and protection in these early days of dealing with the rise of coronavirus cases has thrown up a number of issues which the RCN is ready to take on for their members.

While nurses working in the community are normally seen out about in their uniform, there is about them continuing to do that in primary care. There is also a number of staff working in hospitals who may be encouraged to change from their uniform before going home.

Mrs Fyffe added: “If staff are being encouraged not to leave in uniform then we need to make sure there are adequate changing facilities and also brings into question laundry facilities.”

Access to testing for healthcare workers has been called for by a number of  bodies, and the RCN chief doesn’t understand why it is not already happening.

“We can’t do workforce planning, if we don’t know how many people we have got available. We need access to testing and to know whether or not a member of staff needs to self isolate.”

Working in the healthcare service at such unprecedented times of being in the midst of a pandemic, means the RCN will also be looking at support measures in place for staff.

“There is naturally a lot of anxiety, but there is also a lot of stories of great rapport within teams helping one another. 

“There are some staff having to make very difficult decisions at the moment and deciding whether to distance themselves from partners or parents at this time while they are working with Covid-19 patients. 

“They might be living in a house with someone who is vulnerable. The usual support mechanism isn’t there and we need to make sure we can offer support when needed during this challenging time.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said it was essential all nurses had the equipment necessary to protect themselves against the virus.

She said:  “We are absolutely determined that all our hard-working nurses get the right personal protective equipment to keep them safe and the First Minister has written to the RCN to assure them we are working at pace with health boards to ensure that happens. 

“We have released PPE  from the national stockpile to meet the emerging demands. The position with supplies is under constant review as the coronavirus outbreak develops and we are working hard with NHS National Services Scotland and partners across the four UK nations and globally to ensure continued supply of PPE and to improve distribution channels so equipment gets to those who need it.   

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“In addition, the Covid-19 manufacturing working group, which coordinates the work of the Scottish Government, National Manufacturing Institute Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and the NHS, is working with a range of manufacturing businesses across Scotland who have come forward to provide support in the manufacture of key items required by our NHS – including ventilators, face masks, surgical gowns and hand sanitiser.

“I will continue to treat, as a matter of urgency, issues raised by the RCN and I would again encourage them, or any other staff organisation, to get in touch with me directly with concerns.”