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Doctors and nurses could quit over fears of inadequate protective equipment available in the fight against coronavirus, groups representing frontline workers have warned.

The Government has launched a new scheme to recruit 250,000 volunteers who can help the NHS support vulnerable people during the coronavirus pandemic.

But this could be undermined if some medics decide to leave their jobs because they feel they are not safe due to a “widespread lack” of personal protective equipment (PPE), the chair of the Doctors’ Association said.

Dr Rinesh Parmer told the Guardian: “The longer this epidemic goes on for, if doctors feel that there is a widespread lack of personal protective equipment, then some doctors may feel they have no choice but to give up the profession they love, because they feel so abandoned by not being given the PPE that the World Health Organisation recommends.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says 250,000 volunteers wanted and new London hospital to open

“That’s the travesty of this situation, that the government needs to protect frontline health workers and in return they will give 100 per cent. But the government hasn’t kept its side of the bargain with NHS staff by not having enough PPE available to safeguard the health of doctors and nurses.”

And the Royal College of Nursing said staff should “never be forced to choose between their safety and their livelihood.”

A spokesperson added: “This equipment must desperately reach the frontline.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier said that 7,5 million pieces of protective equipment had been shipped out in the last 24 hours, including face masks.

Amid concerns over the availability of protective equipment for frontline staff, he said that the armed forces have been involved in getting these kits out to people.

He said: “If people are working on the front line to look after us, it’s vital that we look after them.”

Worries over vital supplies in hospitals is of great concern not just in the UK.

Doctors and nurses across the world have pleaded for more supplies to treat a surging number of coronavirus patients.

Global medical staff have been facing severe shortages of equipment, like masks and ventilators, which are critical in their battle against Covid-19.

In France, doctors scrounged masks from construction workers and factory floors.

Francois Blanchecott, a biologist on the front lines of testing, told France Inter radio: “There’s a wild race to get surgical masks.

“We’re asking mayors’ offices, industries, any enterprises that might have a store of masks.”

The race to find equipment came as the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the outbreak was accelerating and called on countries to take strong, coordinated action.

Mr Hancock said 11,788 recently retired NHS staff had responded to a call to return to the service – 2,660 doctors, more than 2,500 pharmacists and other staff and 6,147 nurses.

“I pay tribute to each and every one of those who is returning to the NHS at its hour of need,” Mr Hancock said.

Some 5,500 final-year medics and 18,700 final-year student nurses would “move to the frontline” next week, he said.

And Mr Hancock confirmed that a temporary hospital – the NHS Nightingale hospital – would be opening at London’s Excel centre, as revealed by the Evening Standard.