Frontline mental health workers reveal concern over lack of testing and protective equipment

More must be done to protect frontline psychiatrists in the face of Covid-19, leading medics have warned.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists called for better access to testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers as it warned that the crisis sweeping across care homes could be replicated in mental health care.

It comes after a poll of members of the College found that only half have been able to access Covid-19 tests for themselves and just over half (54%) were able to confirm that their patients could access Covid-19 tests when required.

Psychiatrists also raised concerned over PPE after the survey, conducted between Wednesday and Friday last week, found that one in five (23%) were unable to access the appropriate protective gear.

Professor Wendy Burn (pictured), president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The findings of our survey are deeply worrying, with many psychiatrists unable to test their patients or themselves in line with official advice.

“Without access to testing kits and the right protective equipment I fear we could see a care home style crisis sweeping through mental health units, with many patients and staff contracting the virus.

“Care homes have been left behind during the pandemic. The government must ensure the same does not happen to mental health services.”

In written responses to the survey, which was conducted on 1,685 members, psychiatrists raised concerns over patients spitting and others were concerned over appropriate protective gear.

One said: “Spitting in Covid positive patients is a real issue.”

Another added: “Last week we did CPR on a patient who had hung themselves with no fit tested PPE.”

A member of the College added: “There are extreme shortages of PPE and most of us are at risk. Only very limited supply is obtained and most of the time frontline staff are refused, risking their lives. Staff are terrified and afraid.”

Dr Agnes Ayton, chairwoman of the eating disorders faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Mental health units were ill-prepared to cope with this pandemic as they are not designed to contain a highly contagious disease.

“New patients are arriving for life-saving treatment and we do not know if they are carrying coronavirus as we are unable to test them.

“We need to be able to access tests if we’re to try to mitigate against Covid-19 amongst our workforce.”

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