Half of nursing staff under pressure to work without PPE, reveals RCN

Press Release 18/04/2020

Half of nursing staff including those working in the most high-risk environments have felt pressure to carry out their work without the levels of protection set out in official guidance, the RCN can reveal. High-risk environments include areas where patients with or suspected of having COVID-19 are being treated on ventilators.

Of those treating possible or confirmed COVID-19 patients in these high-risk areas, around half (51%) reported that they are being asked to re-use items of PPE that are marked ‘single use’ by manufacturers. Of those treating COVID-19 patients elsewhere, over a third (39%) said they were being asked to re-use this equipment.

The findings are from a survey conducted by the Royal College of Nursing to provide a snapshot of PPE shortages over the Easter weekend. The results are to be shared directly with associated government agencies and regulators, including the Health and Safety Executive.

The experiences of close to 14,000 nursing professionals from across the UK also confirm that:

  • Almost a third of nursing staff treating Covid-19 positive patients not on ventilators report an immediate lack of face and eye protection;
  • Only half of nursing staff believe they have enough alcohol hand rub;
  • One in ten nurses are relying on face or eye protection they have bought or homemade.

Of the respondents, 88% are registered nurses/midwives, 5% are nursing support workers, 4% selected other. The survey will be run again to collect data of PPE issues across the UK and overtime.

Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said:

“These figures unmask the gut-wrenching shortages nursing staff are dealing with in all health care settings. It is little wonder they are in such fear for their own safety and that of their patients.

“This crisis is taking the lives of nursing staff, and their colleagues feel they’ve been left exposed. All decision makers involved here need to get an urgent grip on the situation. Nursing staff just want to do their jobs – they must be given protection in order to do so.”


  • The RCN developed and distributed an online survey to all RCN members exploring respondent’s experiences of Personal and Protective Equipment (PPE) across all settings in health and social care.
  • The majority of questions were closed quantitative with one supplementary open-text question.
  • The link to this survey was emailed to all RCN members and publicised through our social media platforms. The survey was open over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, between Friday 10 April until Monday 13 April 2020. We are planning to repeat this survey on a regular basis to assess how PPE and infection control are changing over time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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