Two thirds of healthcare workers lacked access to appropriate PPE during first lockdown

A new study has revealed that two thirds (64.8%) of healthcare workers reported not having access to appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at all times during the first UK national lockdown.

The UK-REACH study, led by the University of Leicester and supported by health and care organisations including the General Optical Council (GOC), highlighted that there was a lack of appropriate PPE reported during the first lockdown, during a period when more than 1,000 patients with COVID-19 were being admitted to hospital each day.

The study involving more than 10,000 healthcare workers revealed that those working in Intensive Care Units (ICU) and older healthcare workers were more likely to report access to adequate PPE at all times. Those healthcare workers from Asian ethnic groups (compared to White ethnic groups) and those who were in contact with a high number of patients with COVID-19 were less likely to report access to adequate PPE at all times.

Dr Manish Pareek, Corresponding author and Associate Clinical Professor in Infectious Diseases and Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases at the Department of Respiratory Sciences at the University of Leicester, said:

“Our study provides the first nationwide quantitative summary of reported PPE access amongst healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the findings have important implications for the mental and physical health of healthcare workers working during the pandemic in the UK.

“Access to appropriate PPE is crucial to preventing COVID infection in healthcare workers. When effective PPE is properly worn, removed and discarded, it protects both the healthcare worker who wears it and those with whom they come into contact with.

“Should lack of PPE access be directly related to risk of infection, it may partially explain why healthcare workers from certain groups are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.”

In addition, access to appropriate PPE at all times varied across UK regions, with better reported access in South West and North East England, compared to London.

The study also highlighted how those who trusted their employing organisation to deal with concerns about unsafe clinical practice, compared to those who did not, were twice as likely to report appropriate PPE at all times.

During the second lockdown period between December 2020 and February 2021, the number of healthcare workers reporting adequate access to PPE had subsequently risen to 83.9%.

About the study

The UK-REACH (UK-Research Study into Ethnicity And COVID-19 outcomes in Healthcare workers) cohort study has recruited 18,000 clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers and is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of its kind. It was launched after growing evidence showed how people from ethnic minority backgrounds had double the risk of severe COVID-19 infection compared to that of the White population.

The study is supported by the major national professional regulatory bodies, including the GOC, General Medical Council (GMC), Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), General Dental Council (GDC), General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

The research is jointly funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), and supported by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre - a partnership between Leicester's Hospitals, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University.