The GMB union has found that across just six ambulance trusts in the UK, Covid-19 absences among ambulance workers hit at least 2,000 during the first week of November.
GMB has blamed what it calls “second-rate” PPE supplies for the number of ambulance workers currently off work due to COVID-19.
Data obtained by the union shows that as of this week there were a total of 2,077 COVID-related absences across just six ambulance trusts. GMB were only able to access figures from six of the eleven trusts in England and Wales, so if the figures were extrapolated over all of the trusts the total number of ambulance workers currently absent from work due to COVID-19 could be as high as 3,740.
The union claims that ambulance workers are expected to treat suspected COVID-19 patients “with nothing but a flimsy mask and a plastic apron”, and is calling on the government and Public Health England to launch an urgent review of the current PPE (personal protective equipment) for all key workers.
According to GMB, ambulance workers have reported having to attend patients with “flimsy” plastic gowns rather than medical-grade PPE, nurses in hospitals saying they are only provided with basic surgical masks while working amongst COVID-19 patients while hospital trusts are not effectively testing and isolating patients.
Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer, said: “Covid-related absence among ambulance staff is rocketing.
“And it’s no wonder when our paramedics, technicians and practitioners are expected to treat suspected coronavirus patients with nothing but a flimsy mask and a plastic apron. One gust of wind and this second-rate PPE blows away.
“GMB has called for guidance to be reviewed since the start of the pandemic.
“Our members are professionals working across the NHS and Ambulance Service, they make risk assessments every day and they should be trusted to determine the level of PPE they need in specific situations.
“Unless ministers and PHE act, quickly our ambulance service will grind to a halt.”
The Yorkshire Ambulance Trust was found by GMB to have the highest incidence of ambulance workers either off sick or self-isolating because of COVID-19. In the first week of November, 700 workers were absent – which is 12% of the trust’s total workforce.
Nick Smith, Executive Director of Operations at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “We have robust infection prevention and control measures in place at the Trust including two levels of personal protective equipment (PPE) for those in patient-facing roles and further practical steps to keep all staff safe.
“We are regularly reviewing these measures to ensure our staff and patients stay as safe as possible during the COVID pandemic.”