Face masks: 1 in 5 doctors have to buy their own

Posted: 10 August 2020 9:17 am

Doctor wearing mask

A shortage of PPE gear is biting into the medical profession.

A survey of doctors in Australia has found that 20% are having to source their own personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, with increased demand due to coronavirus leading to supply shortages across the country.

The survey, conducted by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), found that 45% of its members had limited access to medical-grade N95 masks, while 11% had no access at all. Almost a quarter (22%) had limited or no access to surgical masks. 677 members of the RACP responded to the survey, conducted in late July and early August.

"It's remarkable that some are resorting to sourcing their own PPE," said RACP president Professor John Wilson, a respiratory physician. "After all, what is the cost difference between optimal N95 masks and less-protective surgical masks? This is a troubling warning sign of what may be coming for our medical workforce."

"Our hospitals must be providing all staff with the PPE they need to do their job safely," Wilson said. "The results of this survey show that in some public and private settings, this isn't happening. I suspect that a similar survey of aged-care facilities will be just as revealing.

"The evidence for the use of N95masks is compelling and official guidelines used by our hospitals, have been slow to reflect this."

Victoria has been the first state to introduce compulsory face coverings in public places. For most people, a basic cloth mask or disposable mask is adequate, according to doctors.

Concerns around shortages of N95 masks were a factor in earlier advice that mask wearing wasn't necessary for most people. However, since June the World Health Organization has recommended wearing masks to limit the spread of COVID-19. One recent Australian study found that 3-layer masks are the most effective, but suggested that even a scarf is better than no covering at all.

The RACP study also suggests that even medical professionals sometimes struggle with the right way to use a mask. Just 61% said they had received recent workplace training in PPE use.

The federal government maintains a national stockpile of PPE equipment for hospitals, but distribution has proved challenging in recent months.

"At a bare minimum, the government must start providing transparent updates on the status of the national stockpile," Wilson said. "If there is a real shortage, priority must be given to those in higher-risk areas where COVID and suspected-COVID patients are treated."

Want more help with masks? Check out our overview of face masks, how to choose the best one, what doctors recommend when using them, the rules that apply in Australia and our regularly-updated guide on where to buy masks.

Image: Getty Images

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