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RCN demands better PPE to protect staff against COVID-19 variant

College calls for all nurses to have ‘intensive care’ quality face masks amid heightened risk
Nurses react as they treat a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Milton Keynes University Hospital

College calls for all nurses to have intensive care quality face masks amid heightened risk

Nurses in all settings should have intensive care quality personal protective equipment (PPE), the RCN has said amid rising concerns about the more infectious variant of COVID-19.

It warns the government that a more infectious strain of the virus could mean inadequate PPE will put the lives of nursing staff at risk.

Access to higher-grade face masks for all nursing staff

The college is calling for a review of infection control guidance and for all NHS staff to be given the higher grade FFP2/3 PPE, which

College calls for all nurses to have ‘intensive care’ quality face masks amid heightened risk

Nurses react as they treat a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Milton Keynes University Hospital
Nurses react as they treat a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Milton Keynes University Hospital Picture: Reuters

Nurses in all settings should have ‘intensive care’ quality personal protective equipment (PPE), the RCN has said amid rising concerns about the more infectious variant of COVID-19.

It warns the government that a more infectious strain of the virus could mean inadequate PPE will put the lives of nursing staff at risk.

Access to higher-grade face masks for all nursing staff

The college is calling for a review of infection control guidance and for all NHS staff to be given the higher grade FFP2/3 PPE, which is used routinely in intensive care units.

In a letter to health minister Jo Churchill setting out the college’s concerns, RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair says: ‘We expect the government to ensure that nursing staff are supported to use respiratory PPE such as FFP2 or FFP3 masks based on local risk assessment as a precautionary approach to protecting staff from airborne spread of infection.

‘The government’s silence on this issue is creating a postcode lottery for nursing staff, whereby some working on wards have access to the higher-grade face masks and others do not.

‘It must stop dragging its feet on this issue. Nursing staff need to have full confidence that they are protected.’

The letter also stresses the importance of ventilation and says its effectiveness should be reviewed across healthcare.

Concerns related to the risk of aerosol/airborne infection

Professor Kinnair has also written to the Health and Safety Executive, which is responsible for the enforcement of workplace safety laws, in a letter co-signed by BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul.

The letter states: ‘Our very serious concerns relate to the risk of aerosol/airborne infection; RCN and BMA members working in all settings are raising concerns that they are not adequately protected. Our members are concerned that fluid repellent surgical face masks and face coverings, as currently advised in most general healthcare settings, do not protect against smaller, more infective aerosols.’

In December, prime minister Boris Johnson said the new variant of COVID-19 may be up to 70% more transmissible. It is likely that this more transmissible strain of the virus is playing a part in the high numbers of NHS staff off work due to the coronavirus.

On 6 January, 49,704 NHS staff were off sick with COVID-19 or self-isolating. A month earlier, the figure for virus-related absence stood at 27,593.

DHSC stands by current guidance and PPE recommendations

The government updated its guidance on infection prevention and PPE earlier this month.

The Department of Health and Social Care told Nursing Standard: ‘In response to the new COVID-19 variants, the UK Infection Prevention Control Cell conducted a comprehensive review of all available evidence and concluded that current guidance and PPE recommendations remain the right ones.

‘New and emerging evidence is continually scrutinised and evaluated by the government, in conjunction with our world-leading scientists.’


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