Protective chemical suits that would be used by NHS staff in the event of a terror attack are inadequate, according to Birmingham researchers.

A report published in the Emergency Medicine Journal today said national training had helped NHS trusts prepare for chemical incidents, but the design of protective suits and shelters was still a problem.

Research in 1999, showed that most trusts were woefully unprepared to deal with chemical incidents, but since 2001 the Department of Health had provided them with training and chemical personal protection equipment (CPPE), made up of protective suits and inflatable decontamination shelters.

Researchers organised two large-scale simulated chemical incidents at Birmingham Children's Hospital and Heartlands Hospital in April last year.

Following the simulated incidents, staff were critical of the CPPE suits, saying they were "very fiddly and cumbersome to assemble".

It took trained staff, at least, 15 minutes to prepare, test and put them on and when wearing the suits staff struggled to hear each other even when shouting.

There were frequent battery failures, the suits had inadequate flexibility at the knees, shoulders and elbows when lifting, and some suits leaked around the feet.

Tests showed that staff failed to decontaminate patients adequately and staff decontamination was poor due to leaks in the suits.

Anthony Bleetman, from Heartland's Hospital in Birmingham who helped conduct the research, said: "Prior to 2001, the NHS had very little in the way of CPPE or training in management of chemical incidents. The purpose of our test was to try out the suit and training in response to a simulated incident.

"We found the NHS to be in a much stronger position than it was in 2001 but the suits took a while to put on, they were cumbersome, and prone to failure. The Department of Health is now working on modifications to the suit."

A questionnaire was sent to all UK hospital and ambulance trusts as part of the research. Of the 55 which responded, every ambulance service had CPPE with 83 per cent of staff trained to use it, and 98 per cent of hospital trusts had CPPE with 82 per cent trained staff to use it.