COVID-19: heatwave warning for nurses wearing PPE

Advice on how nurses can stay safe and well when wearing personal protective equipment in soaring temperatures

Picture shows nursing students taking a break
Picture: Neil O'Connor

Nurses wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) have been urged to take breaks and hydrate to avoid heat-related illness with temperatures forecast to soar above 30˚C in parts of the UK.

Both the RCN and the Infection Prevention Society are offering advice on how nurses can stay safe while wearing PPE in a heatwave.

Picture shows woman applying lip balm
Frequently applying lip balm can help
when temperatures soar. Picture: iStock

RCN national officer Kim Sunley said: ‘We know that PPE can be extremely uncomfortable and can lead to heat stress, fatigue and heat-related illness, which creates risks to nursing staff and the patients that they are looking after.

‘Particularly in this hot weather, it is vital that nursing staff are able to take regular breaks to refuel and drink plenty of water to reduce the risk of heat stress.’

Ms Sunley said breaks for nurses are for the safety of patients as well as staff.

‘COVID units should be air-conditioned’

Infection Prevention Society president Pat Cattini said: ‘COVID units should be air-conditioned to try and keep temperatures at a comfortable level.

‘Properly fitted air-conditioning units recirculate the air in the room and are not an additional risk.’

The Met Office says a hot spell will develop across much of England and Wales this week, and in Northern Ireland and Scotland by 25 June, and there will be a heatwave in some areas. Central and southern England could see highs of up to 34˚C.

How to keep cool in PPE

Advice from Infection Prevention Society president Pat Cattini, lead infection prevention and control nurse at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London:

  • Take a drink before donning any PPE
  • Remove your mask when you can and take regular short breaks, even ten minutes will help – find a quiet spot outside or socially distance in an office
  • Frequently apply lip balm and face moisturiser – include your ears
  • Beware of sore or red patches on the bridge of your nose or strap contact points behind the ears – loosen the mask or protect your skin with a plaster
  • ‘Buddy-up’ – ask your colleague or teammate how they are managing with their mask and remind them of these tips

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