COVID-19: government issues new PPE guidance for healthcare staff

Guidelines come as nursing unions continue to raise concerns about shortages of personal protective equipment

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Stricter guidelines on personal protective equipment (PPE) specify exactly when nurses should be using masks and other items during the coronavirus outbreak.

The new PPE government guidance specifies precise PPE requirements for healthcare workers in secondary care clinical contexts and primary, outpatient and community care settings.

Risk assessment and judgement to inform PPE use

It highlights the need for risk assessment at local level by individuals and organisations to determine appropriate PPE use, depending on incidence rates of COVID-19. It includes recommendations on:

  • Single session (extended) use of some PPE items – a single session could be a ward round, or taking observations of several patients in a cohort bay.
  • Reusable PPE – if advice on suitable decontamination arrangements are obtained via the manufacturer or local infection control guidance.
  • Patient use of face masks. 
  • Enhanced use of PPE for a wide range of health and social care contexts.

It also highlights the role of personal judgement in risk assessment.

‘Ultimately, where staff consider there is a risk to themselves or the individuals they are caring for, they should wear a fluid repellent surgical mask with or without eye protection, as determined by the individual staff member for the episode of care or single session,’ it states. 

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Staff safety ‘must be a national priority’

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said the college was ‘satisfied’ with the guidance and would be monitoring the situation to see evidence of its efficacy and use.

‘The success of this guidance will be judged by its implementation and communication to those who need it most,’ she said.

But Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe warned the advice would only be effective if PPE supplies reached NHS staff in sufficient quantities in the coming days.

‘This is a national priority – the safety of NHS staff must be the top priority as they risk their own health, and even their lives, to save others,’ he said.

On 1 April, the RCN wrote to workplace health and safety regulator the Health and Safety Executive demanding intervention over nurses’ lack of PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nursing on the COVID-19 front line

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Further information

UK government COVID-19 resources

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