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Doctors purchasing own PPE - according to BMA survey.

Almost half of doctors in England might be buying their own protective equipment or are relying on donations, according to a survey by the British Medical Association (BMA).

The survey of more than 16,000 doctors also found that 65% feel they are only partly, or not at all, protected on the front line of the coronavirus crisis.

One said the situation is "an outrage for all staff". The government said it is working round the clock to deliver equipment.

The survey found that 48% of doctors reported having bought personal protective equipment (PPE) directly for themselves or their department, or had received donations from a charity or local firm.

Chairman of the BMA Council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: "At the moment we're at the mercy of donations or purchasing them. That doesn't give you security and it hasn't met the government's own promise that it will be protecting its workforce.”

He said the survey showed supplies were improving but that they had not reached a point where all staff could be assured they would be adequately protected from infection.

GPs appear to be more affected by PPE shortages: 55% of family doctors said they had to source their own equipment, compared with 38% of hospital doctors.

A GP at Riverside Health Partnership, Retford, Nottinghamshire. Dr Helen Kirby-Blount, said that the partnership had not received any PPE from the government since early March.

She said staff had resorted to buying their own PPE online or were dependent on donations, including goggles and visors made by local schools.

Costs continue to rise, and there is no guarantee that staff will be refunded for equipment they have bought themselves.

Where practical, Dr Kirby-Blount said staff were re-using equipment, but had so far avoided re-using aprons, gloves or surgical masks.

She said: "We are not comfortable re-using masks. We would not normally do so in any other type of situation."

About five of her staff had frequent contact with patients who may have coronavirus, including patients in care homes and those referred by the 111-phone service.

She added that "the best PPE" is reserved for high-risk situations and estimated that their current mask supplies would run out in 1-2 weeks. She believes the situation is only likely to get worse as restrictions are lifted.

She said: "We are not expecting coronavirus to go away anytime soon. Our biggest fear is what is going to happen in the autumn when it will be impossible to know who has coronavirus and who has the normal winter bugs. Everyone will have to wear PPE."

Almost a third of doctors told the survey that they had not spoken out about PPE, staff shortages, testing or drug shortages because they did not think any action would be taken if they did.

In a statement, the government said it was "working around the clock to ensure PPE is delivered" to healthcare staff and said that it had supplied more than a billion items since the outbreak started.