A union has claimed tearful Swindon nurses are having to look after coronavirus patients issued with only basic surgical masks, aprons and goggles.

The GMB union called for all healthcare workers to be required to wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus.

The government this week updated its guidance on when personal protective equipment should be used, going further than before. A 24-hour helpline has been set up to allow NHS staff to order more PPE and the army has been brought in to help with the logistics of getting millions of gloves, aprons and masks to hospitals, pharmacies, doctors’ surgeries and care homes.

GMB said union officers had been contacted by clinical staff at GWH who had daily contact with patients showing symptoms of coronavirus and who were not being issued “adequate and appropriate” protective dear.

“Incidents are being reported of nursing staff being in tears as they look after Covid-19 positive patients, finding they are issued with basic surgical masks, aprons and a pair of goggles,” the union claimed.

“There are also numerous incidences of having patients coughing uncontrollably on them, resulting in having droplets of spit onto hair, face, neck and arms. This is leaving nursing staff visibly scared and concerned not only for their own health but, that of family as well.

“GMB members as healthcare professionals know and accept that they have a responsibility to help patients, save lives and reduce suffering and they do so willingly but, they do have the right at the very least, to have fit and proper protection whilst at work.”

Asia Allison, GMB regional organiser, added: “While other countries arm their frontline healthcare workers with hazmat suits, we are just given an apron and a surgical mask to fight this battle.”

A spokesman for Great Western Hospital said: “The safety and wellbeing of our staff at this time is our number one priority and our staff have been remarkable in responding to this unprecedented public health emergency.

“We follow all national guidance on the use of PPE which also reflects World Health Organisation guidance setting out the different types of PPE that are essential in different clinical settings and when carrying out different types of procedures. We also went further earlier on the use of masks for all direct patient care so have been very responsive to the concerns and questions coming from staff.

“We are managing our supplies by the hour to ensure our staff have what they need, when they need it and so that we can escalate any significant issues of concern through the national supply chain routes.

“At the same time we stay in close contact with our colleagues across the Trust to encourage any member of staff with any concerns to speak up.”