Canadian doctors’ anxiety amid coronavirus can be eased by more PPE, testing: poll

Increasing both personal protective equipment (PPE) and coronavirus testing would help ease the mental health effects of the pandemic on physicians, a new poll suggests.

The poll, released Tuesday by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and conducted last week, found that nearly 90 per cent of physicians would be less anxious about Canada’s COVID-19 outbreak if there was greater availability of PPE.

The survey also found that increased testing would make 84 per cent of physicians feel less anxious and ease their concerns.

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CMA President Dr. Sandy Buchanan said the survey’s results points to more urgent action in both the distribution of PPE to health-care workers, as well as Canada’s levels of population testing.

“The anxiety experienced by health care providers is compounded by a lack of information and assurance that everything possible is being done to protect them and understand the spread of the virus among Canadians,” Buchanan said in a press release.

“We know that governments are working hard to improve the availability of personal protective equipment, but physicians continue to be gravely concerned about their ability to provide care safely.”

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Interestingly, the survey found that doctors were divided on whether or not they’ve seen an improvement in PPE supply over the last several weeks.

Twenty-nine per cent of doctors said that supply had improved while another 29 per cent stated that supply had gotten worse. Just above 40 per cent said that they saw no changes in PPE supply overall.

Canada’s supply of PPE has been a contentious issue over the course of the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Frontline health-care worker as well as health officials across the country previously warned low stockpiles of PPE, which include items like medical face masks, gowns and gloves.

Shortages of PPE have also been reported by health-care workers in hospitals and care homes throughout Canada. At least two Toronto hospitals saw staff rationing their supplies last month, while other workers have been forced to sanitize and reuse masks.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said earlier this month that the country is looking into whether or not some supplies can be reused.

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It’s not just hospitals where staff say they’re worried about running out of PPE. SafeCare BC, the province’s association for continuing care workers, found in a recent survey that 69 per cent of those polled expected to run out of supplies within three days.

A follow-up survey this past weekend found that number had shrunk to 42 per cent, but the association still expressed alarm over the results.

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Saturday that when it comes to distributing PPE, officials have been distributing supplies on a semi-daily basis and are ensuring that no facilities run out — though admitted that’s been a challenge.

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“We are confident that, as a province, we have enough to last us for the foreseeable future, but we have to be very careful in how we manage it out to different sectors,” she said.

“I know that can be quite distressing for people, thinking it won’t be replenished in two days or three days, but I believe we have a good system now for ensuring that that happens.”

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Henry said as the number of new cases each day stabilize and the pandemic curve flattens, stockpiles of PPE would be increased.

To date, Canada has reported a total of 48,489 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, including 2,707 deaths.

At least 752,000 tests have also been administered since the beginning of the outbreak, but concerns on the provincial testing rates were previously been raised.

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Ontario has since been the subject of criticism for what Premier Doug Ford described as “unacceptable” testing rates and its strict testing eligibility.

Provinces across the country have since vowed to expand their testing resources and criteria. Alberta, which followed through on that promise earlier this month, have seen their daily case reports skyrocket: officials there are now regularly reporting hundreds of new cases, after weeks of announcing far lower numbers.

The CMA survey also found that a third of physicians with community practices had at most two days worth of PPE, or had already run out of at least one type of equipment.

The survey, which saw 2,500 physicians respond, was a follow-up to a poll the CMA conducted at the end of March that had nearly 5,000 responses.

In that poll, 71 per cent of physicians said they had placed a PPE order within the last month, but only 13 per cent said that order had arrived or was on the way.

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