Article Text

Original research
Frontline healthcare workers’ experiences with personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK: a rapid qualitative appraisal
  1. Katarina Hoernke1,
  2. Nehla Djellouli1,
  3. Lily Andrews2,
  4. Sasha Lewis-Jackson3,
  5. Louisa Manby2,
  6. Sam Martin4,
  7. Samantha Vanderslott4,
  8. Cecilia Vindrola-Padros5
  1. 1Institute for Global Health, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, University College London, London, UK
  3. 3Department of Anthropology, University College London, London, UK
  4. 4Oxford Vaccine Group, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  5. 5Department of Targeted Intervention, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Cecilia Vindrola-Padros; c.vindrola{at}


Objectives To report frontline healthcare workers’ (HCWs) experiences with personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. To understand HCWs’ fears and concerns surrounding PPE, their experiences following its guidance and how these affected their perceived ability to deliver care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Design A rapid qualitative appraisal study combining three sources of data: semistructured in-depth telephone interviews with frontline HCWs (n=46), media reports (n=39 newspaper articles and 145 000 social media posts) and government PPE policies (n=25).

Participants Interview participants were HCWs purposively sampled from critical care, emergency and respiratory departments as well as redeployed HCWs from primary, secondary and tertiary care centres across the UK.

Results A major concern was running out of PPE, putting HCWs and patients at risk of infection. Following national level guidance was often not feasible when there were shortages, leading to reuse and improvisation of PPE. Frequently changing guidelines generated confusion and distrust. PPE was reserved for high-risk secondary care settings and this translated into HCWs outside these settings feeling inadequately protected. Participants were concerned about differential access to adequate PPE, particularly for women and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic HCWs. Participants continued delivering care despite the physical discomfort, practical problems and communication barriers associated with PPE use.

Conclusion This study found that frontline HCWs persisted in caring for their patients despite multiple challenges including inappropriate provision of PPE, inadequate training and inconsistent guidance. In order to effectively care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline HCWs need appropriate provision of PPE, training in its use as well as comprehensive and consistent guidance. These needs must be addressed in order to protect the health and well-being of the most valuable healthcare resource in the COVID-19 pandemic: our HCWs.

  • public health
  • qualitative research
  • COVID-19
  • health services administration & management

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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Supplementary materials


  • Twitter @digitalcoeliac, @CeciliaVindrola

  • Contributors CV-P designed the study, contributed to data collection, supervised data collection, analysis and reviewed different iterations of the manuscript. KH, LM, ND and SL-J contributed to the interviews. KH, LM and SL-J conducted the policy review. LA contributed to mass media data collection. SM and SV contributed to social media monitoring, data collection and analyses. KH conducted data analysis of all data and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. ND supervised data analysis and reviewed different iterations of the manuscript. All authors edited the manuscript and approved the final version.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval This study was approved by the Health Research Authority (HRA) and Health and Care Research Wales (HCRW) and the R&D offices of the hospitals where the study took place. IRAS project ID: 282069.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.