Coronavirus: 'Confused' GPs using catering aprons because they have not been given protective equipment

Gareth Davies
Surgeon putting on latex glove - Science Photo Library

GPs are using catering aprons to treat patients presenting with coronavirus symptoms because they have not been issued the proper protective equipment, a doctor has said. 

Faye Kirkland, a BBC reporter who also works as a GP, told the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme GPs are also confused about who they should be treating at their surgery and who they shouldn't.

She said: "Since the weekend I've been contacted by a number of GPs concerned about the current guidance. 

"There is clear guidance if you've been away in the past 14 days to a high risk area or if you've been in contact with someone with a known case of Covid-19. 

"But there is an increasing concern about those who have symptoms such as a fever or a cough but haven't been away or haven't had a known contact. 

"So I've been in contact with the Royal College of GPs and they're saying their members are experiencing some confusion about triage - so what patients they should be talking to on the phone and patients they should be bringing in and what steps GPs should be taking to manage these patients in the best way possible."

Doctors are having to take matters in to their own hands in terms of their equipment too - with GPs using makeshift catering aprons as surgical gowns. 

She said: "Patients are calling 111, but they'll go through a whole set of questions. 

"And if they don't think they are at risk or don't fit the tightly-defined criteria for a swab then often those calls are passed to the GP and they might come and see the GP.

"There's a difficulty in GPs in knowing.  For the vast majority of patients - they can be spoken to on the phone. But there are circumstances whereby the patients will need to be examined.

"I've heard of GPs trying to see those patients at the end of a list so they can be seen together, seeing patients and trying to use catering aprons to protect themselves because they haven't got the correct equipment." 

Equipment has not been widely shared among GPs, Dr Kirkland said. 

"I've heard from GPs desperately trying to contact the Public Health England and they're being passed to NHS England then to the local commissioning group," she told the BBC. 

"There has been a promise to get that in hopefully early next week. 

"But at the moment GPs are left in this position of trying to do things themselves but they need guidance on how to manage this." 

The Telegraph has learned that GPs were written to by NHS England on March 5 updating doctors on the Covid-19 situation. 

In the four-page letter, it stated 400 general use aprons, 300 pairs of examination gloves and 300 face masks, will be issued early next week to all practices.

An NHS spokesman said: "In the first of a series of regular updates, the NHS has written to all GP practices across the country informing them that hundreds of protective kits would be sent to them from this week, with larger surgeries receiving repeat deliveries to ensure they are well stocked.

"Anyone with concerns about coronavirus can use the NHS 111 online service, and while the 111 phone line is understandably busy, and people may have to wait longer than usual, all enquiries are being responded to thanks to hard working NHS staff."