Canadian Medical Association

Appearing via video link, CMA President Dr. Sandy Buchman told a federal committee the safety of front-line health care workers is at risk due to an inadequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and a lack of information around its distribution.

He made the comments earlier today, before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, during hearings on Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Buchman also presented findings from a recent CMA member survey, where community and hospital-based physicians were asked about the PPE available to them – including surgical masks, N95 respirators, face shields, gowns and gloves. 

Nearly 5,000 physicians responded to the survey, and painted a stark picture:

  • More than one third of physicians in community care settings — doctors’ offices, walk-in clinics and health hubs — said they believed they would run out of masks, respirators, eye/face shields and goggles/glasses within two days or less, or had already run out.
  • 71% of physicians in community care tried to order supplies in the past month, but fewer than 15% received confirmation that supplies were en route or had been received. In Nova Scotia, only 2% of physicians indicated their recent order had been received or was being shipped. 
  • When asked about alternate supply sources, only 1 in 10 physicians waiting on supplies were aware of a government source of supply. The rate was highest in Alberta at 26% and lowest in Nova Scotia at 5% and New Brunswick at zero.
  • Physicians who work primarily in hospitals, where COVID-19 cases are being directed, were largely unaware of how long their current supply would last. Many respondents were being asked to ration supplies.

“The toll that’s paid for this uncertainty weighs heavily on health care workers across the country,” Dr. Buchman told the committee. “They’re scared. They’re anxious. They feel betrayed. They don’t know what supplies are available.”

Dr. Buchman acknowledged the federal government is working to ensure adequate supplies of PPE in the face of strong global demand. He applauded the efforts of Canada’s private industries that are pivoting production to supply PPE. 

Still, he stressed the need to address PPE shortages immediately.

“Asking health care workers to be on the frontlines of this pandemic without the proper equipment is unacceptable. People’s lives are on the line.”

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