COVID-19: RCN condemns changes to PPE guidance

Advice to reuse gowns or use alternatives raises concerns over value placed on staff safety

Picture shows a medic in protective gear. Advice to reuse gowns or use alternatives has raises concerns over safety of staff.
Picture: Getty Images

Changes to official guidance on personal protective equipment (PPE) have been condemned by the RCN and other healthcare unions.

According to guidance by Public Health England (PHE), long-sleeved, disposable, fluid-repellent gowns should be worn when treating COVID-19 patients.

However, on 17 April PHE published an update advising clinical staff that if such gowns are unavailable they should wear ‘disposable, non-fluid-repellent gowns or coveralls’ or ‘washable surgical gowns’ with aprons, and wash their forearms afterwards.

‘Unacceptable to not provide PPE as required’

The update also says staff should consider reusing PPE where necessary if supplies are low.

Picture of RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair, who has voiced concerns over changed guidance on the use of PPE..
Dame Donna Kinnair

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said it was unacceptable for any UK healthcare setting to not provide PPE as required by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and set out in earlier guidance.

‘Only sound scientific evidence or safety concerns should change the guidance,’ she said.

‘We have written to the HSE in the strongest terms to voice our concerns. Nursing staff need to be afforded proper protection.’

Nurses can refuse to treat patients ‘as last resort’

Nurses have already been advised by the college that they can refuse to treat patients ‘as a last resort’ if they are not provided with adequate equipment.

The hospital doctors’ union said hospitals and employers would be able to use the new guidance on reusing items or wearing different kit to ‘coerce health workers... to risk their own lives when caring for COVID-19 patients’.

Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association president Claudia Paoloni said the step could involve ‘an extremely high risk of cross-contamination for both staff and patients’.

The Royal College of Surgeons has advised its members not to risk their own health and said it was ‘deeply disturbed’ by the guidelines.

RAF on standby for delayed PPE shipment

A delivery of 84 tonnes of PPE that was due to arrive in the UK from Turkey on Sunday afternoon has been delayed.

The Royal Air Force was on standby to bring the equipment, which includes 400,000 surgical gowns, on Monday, the government said. A government spokesperson said: ‘We are continuing to work to ensure the shipment is delivered as soon as possible.’

View our COVID-19 resource centre

In other news