Nurses on some Covid wards are being put at risk by caring for patients without any protective equipment, leading nurses have said.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) was putting frontline nurses at risk.
The union said that it is “unacceptable” that weeks into the crisis some nurses are yet to be provided with the necessary PPE.
It has called for minimum basic levels of PPE to be rolled out for staff in all settings – hospitals, care homes, or in the community – but it said that this is “yet” to be provided.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “The Government is finally prioritising Covid-19 testing for NHS staff, including social care, but it is completely unacceptable that weeks into this crisis, there are colleagues in all settings – hospitals, community or care homes – who have not been provided with personal protective equipment.
“I am hearing from nurses who are treating patients in Covid-19 wards without any protection at all. This cannot continue. They are putting themselves, their families, and their patients at risk.
“As the professional trade union representing potentially the largest group of affected workers, the RCN has said repeatedly that we will not accept anything less than aprons, gloves and masks for all staff, in all settings. But this is a minimum – and that is why we are so disappointed even that level of protection has yet to be provided.
“Every minute we wait is a minute too long. All nursing staff, no matter where they work, must feel safe. We need action, we need equipment, we need it now.”
Global shortages of the equipment medics and carers need to protect themselves against Covid-19 have led to shortfalls in the UK.
The PA news agency has published information from numerous doctors who expressed serious concerns about a lack of PPE in NHS hospitals.
One described how staff are “hiding” equipment out of sheer desperation.
Some workers are saying they are sick as they fear the provisions are inadequate, another said.
Another doctor compared the situation to sending a soldier to war without the necessary equipment while a junior doctor said it feels like it is “inevitable” that they will contract the virus due to a lack of PPE.
The World Health Organisation has warned that the “chronic” shortage of PPE is threatening “our collective ability to save lives”.
On Friday, WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “When health workers are at risk, we’re all at risk.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said it has issued millions of pieces of equipment and set up a national helpline so those in need can ask for more.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told a Downing Street briefing on Sunday that 170 million masks, some 42.8 million gloves, 13.7 million aprons, 182,000 gowns, almost 10 million items of cleaning equipment and 2.3 million pairs of eye protectors were being delivered to frontline staff.
He said: “Every single GP practice, dental practice and community pharmacy has had a PPE delivery. All care homes, hospices, and home care providers have, or will shortly, receive a delivery.”