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‘Postcode lottery’ of PPE, survey of surgeons finds

12 Apr 2020

A third of surgeons and trainees surveyed across the UK by the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) say they do not believe they have an adequate supply of PPE in their Trust, enabling them to do their jobs safely.  More than half (57%) say there have been shortages in the past 30 days.

The RCS figures show a wide regional variation in surgeons’ experience, with more than half (52%) in the Thames Valley now saying they now have access to adequate PPE, but little more than a third (34.7%) saying the same in the North West.  At the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, London, a third (33.4%) of respondents say they do not believe their Trust has an adequate supply of PPE..

The new survey of nearly 2,000 surgeons and surgical trainees, comes after improved PPE guidance was issued by NHS England – with the backing of the medical royal colleges – at the beginning of April.  RCS Vice President Sue Hill said, “The guidance is now much improved, but we have consistently said that advice about what protection to use for which medical procedures is rendered meaningless if the kit doesn’t reach the front line.

More than half of those responding to the RCS survey also expressed scepticism about their chances of getting a COVID-19 test for themselves, should they need one.  Confidence is particularly low in the East of England, where 75% of surgeons say they believe they would not get access to a test.  Health officials admitted earlier this month that only 2,000 of half a million frontline NHS staff had so far been tested. 

Expressing views on what this meant for the population at large, 72% of respondents to the survey believe widespread testing of the population would be necessary before the present UK ‘lockdown’ could end.

Commenting, Vice President of the RCS, Sue Hill said:

“We have been working with government to ensure surgeons and their teams have the right advice about what level of PPE they need for different surgical procedures, but the overall picture from our survey is that there is still a lot more work to do to get adequate equipment to the front line.  In the mean time we have urged our members not to risk their health, and that of their patients carrying out risky procedures.

“Things are going broadly in the right direction with fewer surgeons telling us there is an inadequate supply of PPE in their Trust now, than over the past month.  But progress in this fast-moving crisis feels painfully slow.  PPE supply should not be a postcode lottery – the most acutely affected areas need more kit, fast.

“Meanwhile, it’s welcome that the cap on staff testing for COVID-19 has been lifted in the past few days, but surgeons and trainees working at the coal face do not yet have confidence in the country’s capacity to test even NHS staff, let alone the wider population.

“PPE and testing go hand in hand – you need good access to both, to keep everyone staff as safe as possible through this crisis, and to keep hospitals functioning.”


Notes to editors

  1. The RCS survey fieldwork ran from 6 April 2020 – 9 April 2020. The survey was completed by 1,978 surgeons and surgical trainees   Data tables available on request.
  2. The RCS responded to new guidance on PPE, issued by NHS England, on 2 April 2020 at
  3. RCS President, Professor Derek Alderson, has urged members not to risk exposing themselves to COVID-19 through inadequate personal protection.
  4. Just 2,000 NHS staff had been tested for COVID-19 as at 1 April 2020.  See, for example,
  5. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

For more information, please contact the RCS press office: telephone: 020 7869 6047; email:; out-of-hours media enquiries – 020 7869 6056.

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