Hospital nurses refuse to work over lack of PPE in Leeds after colleague dies

Nurses on elderly wards in Leeds are refusing shifts because they are not being given the right safety equipment, saying they’re being “emotionally blackmailed” into putting their lives at risk.

Popular mental health nurse Khulisani Nkala died last week after contracting coronavirus
Popular mental health nurse Khulisani Nkala died last week after contracting coronavirus

Following the death of a Leeds mental health nurse from coronavirus last week, nurses are calling on the government to ensure they have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) on mental health wards.

In a leaked email, the boss of the NHS trust said she was “saddened” that some nurses were “refusing” to cover staff sickness on elderly dementia wards with coronavirus.

As per government recommendations, staff on wards with coronavirus are given paper surgical masks, gloves and a disposable apron. However, nurses have asked for the FFP3 masks - fitted masks which filter the air - goggles and long-sleeved gowns that are used on “high risk” wards.

NHS staff are required to wear full protective equipment only when working in "high risk" areas

One nurse said there were one pair of plastic glasses to share between staff on a Leeds dementia ward.

A Leeds nurse said: “Most people on mental health wards don’t have the capacity to cover their mouth so they’re coughing and sneezing into the air.

“My issue is with the government giving advice to hospital trusts telling them that it’s safe, when they should just tell the truth and say the FFP3 masks are rare so we have to use them in the most severe of cases.

“The government are making out that wearing surgical masks is protective against contracting the virus. It’s not.

“I might as well just have a tissue over my face.”

The nurse added: “I want the government to be held accountable and for people on band 2 wages (a salary of £15,400 per year) to not be emotionally blackmailed to work in a risky environment but I also don’t want to lose my job.”

In an email sent to staff seen by the Yorkshire Post, Dr Sara Munro, chief executive of Leeds and York Partnership NHS Trust, said she understood the threat of being killed by coronavirus was frightening staff.

She added: “I also know some of our areas are very much at the frontline of this pandemic which at the moment is being felt most strongly in our older people’s inpatient wards and supported living service.

“I was saddened to hear that some staff have been refusing to cover our older adults wards today to cover for staff sickness and this has made the job of our managers even harder to ensure all our areas are safely staffed.”

Dr Munro called on staff to contact the trust if they had any concerns about their safety.

Yesterday, tributes were paid to a Leeds mental health nurse who died after contracting coronavirus.

Khulisani Nkala, known as Khuli, was a mental health nurse who mainly worked at the Newsam Centre in Seacroft.

The 46-year-old died after testing positive for Covid-19 on Friday 17 April.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are working around the clock to ensure PPE is delivered as quickly as possible to those on the frontline of this global pandemic for as long as it is required.

“We have delivered over 1 billion items since the outbreak began and there is a 24 hour NHS-run helpline where NHS and social care workers can call to report shortages in supply.”

Correction: This story has been corrected to remove an image of St James's Hospital, which is run by Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, not Leeds and York Partnership NHS Trust.