Doctors and nurses in England are to be asked to treat coronavirus patients without fully protective gowns and to reuse equipment due to shortage fears.
The decision came in a reversal of guidance to hospitals from Public Health England on Friday.
Earlier this week, the BBC reported the plan was being considered as a “last resort”.
It comes as NHS Providers warned some hospitals’ supplies could run out in 24 hours.
Chris Hopson, head of the association, which represents healthcare trusts across England, said in a tweet: “We have now reached the point where the national stock of fully fluid repellent gowns and long-sleeved laboratory coats will be exhausted in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours.”
He said that national leaders have left “no stone unturned” – but gowns that were ordered weeks ago are currently only arriving in “fits and starts”.
Public Health England changed its guidance, which until now required long-sleeved, disposable, fluid-repellent gowns for people treating Covid-19 patients.
Now it says if these gowns are not available, staff can wear washable medical gowns or non-fluid-repellent equipment.
Documents seen by the BBC said the measures were considered earlier this week to cope with “acute supply shortages”
It comes as the UK recorded 847 new coronavirus-related deaths in hospitals on Thursday, taking the total to 14,576.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “New clinical advice has been issued today to make sure that if there are shortages in one area, frontline staff know what PPE to wear instead to minimise risk.”
And Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he “would love to be able to wave a magic wand” to increase supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“But given that we have a global situation in which there is less PPE in the world than the world needs, obviously it’s going to be a huge pressure point,” he told a virtual committee of MPs.
Mr Hancock admitted the supply of gowns was “tight” but said he was aiming to get enough gowns to staff this weekend.
He added that the government was doing everything it could “to get that PPE to the front line”.
Dr Rob Harwood, consultants committee chairman at the British Medical Association, said: “If it’s being proposed that staff reuse equipment, this must be demonstrably driven by science and the best evidence – rather than availability – and it absolutely cannot compromise the protection of healthcare workers.
“Too many healthcare workers have already died. More doctors and their colleagues cannot be expected to put their own lives on the line in a bid to save others, and this new advice means they could be doing just that. It’s not a decision they should have to make.”
At least 50 NHS workers have now died after contracting coronavirus.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Week after week, we hear of problems in PPE getting to the front line despite what ministers tell us at Downing Street press conferences.
“This ongoing failure needs fixing and ministers must explain how they will fix it urgently.”
In other developments: