Medics at Southend Hospital have warned they may need to limit services to a “bare minimum” amid concerns over a shortage of protective equipment for staff.

In an extraordinary move, A&E medics wrote to hospital bosses, saying care for virus-stricken patients would be reduced as a result.

A shocking letter said protective equipment for staff was being “rationed” and limited stocks were being “locked away from staff”, according to the BBC.

Revealing few had been tested for the potentially fatal virus, “petrified” staff said they continued to work with patients despite fears for their own safety.

Medics gave hospital chief executive Clare Panniker until close of play yesterday for equipment recommended in World Health Organisation guidelines to be made available or restricted services would be put in place.

Paglesham Ward is said to have been set aside for positive coronavirus cases while side rooms on other wards are being used for suspected cases.

One registered nurse working at the hospital claims she has been banned from shifts at the hospital for refusing to treat a coronavirus patient without a plastic gown which covered her arms rather than a halter apron.

Agency nurse Theresa Nwabue, 37, from Shoebury, who has five children aged from three to 13, including one with asthma, said: “They want staff to look after patients without proper personal protection equipment.

“There were two patients with Covid-19 on Blenheim ward on March 27. I had a surgical mask and goggles but just an apron. When I asked for a gown which covered my arms it was refused.

"I said I had a child at high risk but they didn’t care. They cancelled my shifts. They told my agency I had put a patient at risk by refusing to treat them.”

Ms Nwabue added: “I did not refuse to treat the patient. I would have been happy to go with the right gown.

“I was to administer IV antibiotics which means spending some time with a patient. The patient was on oxygen and my arms would have been exposed.” 

A hospital spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to keeping our staff safe.

“We are fully complying with the PHE guidance on the use of PPE which has been developed by expert clinicians and is being followed by the whole of the NHS.

“Like all other hospitals, we have staff working around the clock to ensure that we have sufficient supplies of PPE available for our staff.”