RACP survey: 20 per cent of physicians in public hospitals sourcing their own PPE – calls for greater transparency on government stockpile

August 10, 2020

The RACP has released a survey today of its members, revealing a significant proportion of its members in public hospitals are resorting to buying their own protective equipment, with almost half having limited or no access to N95 grade masks and 11% with no access.

The survey found:

  • 20% of respondents in public hospitals say they have had to source their own PPE
  • 22% of respondents across all settings say they have either limited (19%) or no (3%) access to surgical masks
  • 45% of respondents say they have limited or no access to N95/P2 masks for their needs, with 11% having no access
  • Only 61% of respondents reported having had recent workplace training in the use of PPE.

RACP President and Respiratory Physician Professor John Wilson said “It’s not good enough that 1 in 5 have limited access to surgical masks. It’s remarkable that some are resorting to sourcing their own PPE. Afterall, what is the cost difference between optimal N95 masks and less-protective surgical masks? This is a troubling warning sign of what may be coming for our medical workforce.

“At a bare minimum, the government must start providing transparent updates on the status of the national stockpile. If there is a real shortage, priority must be given to those in higher-risk areas where COVID and suspected-COVID patients are treated.

“Our hospitals must be providing all staff with the PPE they need to do their job safely. The results of this survey show that in some public and private settings, this isn’t happening. I suspect that a similar survey of aged-care facilities will be just as revealing.

“We have serious concerns for the safety of our members on the frontline. While they are putting their lives on the line to tackle this pandemic – our Government must be doing everything they can to provide them with sufficient protective equipment. The evidence for the use of N95 masks is compelling and official guidelines – used by our hospitals, have been slow to reflect this.

Professor John Wilson said “We also need a way of getting real time insights into healthcare workers who have been infected with COVID-19. We recommend the Government adopt a registry where we can closely monitor the infection rate among healthcare workers.”

Professor Malcolm Sim, President of the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine said the results about a lack of workplace training on PPE are seriously concerning. 

“It’s unacceptable that 39% of those surveyed have not had recent training on the appropriate use of PPE.

“We have concerns that due to a lack of workplace training, healthcare workers may not always be using PPE correctly, such as the donning and doffing process which is crucial.

“We need hospitals across Australia but particularly in Victoria, to urgently ramp up their workplace training on PPE use, as a central part of a comprehensive workplace health COVID-19 prevention program.”

“We must do everything we can to ensure that healthcare workers are protected from infection while at work – and that includes urgent PPE training for all hospitals who have not yet rolled this out.”

The survey was completed during the period of 30 July to 3 August and 677 responses were received from RACP members.

What governments need to do urgently:

  • Commit to a target of zero occupationally-acquired healthcare worker COVID-19 infections
  • Ensure PPE frontline health care workers have access to necessary PPE and required training (in public and private hospitals as well as residential aged care settings)
  • Ensure physicians and paediatricians working in private practice in the community are able to access the National Medical Stockpile for their PPE requirements
  • Provide transparent information about reserves in the National Medical Stockpile, including by jurisdiction
  • Report nationally and by jurisdiction on health care workers testing positive to COVID-19 by jurisdiction, age group, occupation, primary workplace, and whether the infection was occupationally acquired.
  • Extend PPE requirements for the use of N95 masks to aged-care facilities.
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