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FFP3 masks: how and when nurses should ask for a PPE upgrade

Nurses should be issued with respirator masks for front-line coronavirus care, insists RCN
Nurse wearing FFP3 respirator mask, which Cambridge study suggests reduces coronavirus infection incidence to almost zero among front-iine staff

RCN advice to nursing staff on how to make sure they have PPE fit for the level of risk they face when caring for patients with coronavirus

Advice for nurses on what to do if an employer denies access to FFP3 masks has been offered by the RCN.

It comes after research from the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust found provision of FFP3 respirators – rather than standard fluid-resistant surgical masks – to front-line staff on COVID-19 wards reduced incidence of staff coronavirus infection to virtually zero.

While only a small study, the results are cited by the RCN as

RCN advice to nursing staff on how to make sure they have PPE fit for the level of risk they face when caring for patients with coronavirus

Nurse wearing FFP3 respirator mask, which Cambridge study suggests reduces coronavirus infection incidence to almost zero among front-iine staff
The FFP3 mask provides a higher level of respiratory protection than the standard surgical mask Picture: iStock

Advice for nurses on what to do if an employer denies access to FFP3 masks has been offered by the RCN.

It comes after research from the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust found provision of FFP3 respirators – rather than standard fluid-resistant surgical masks – to front-line staff on COVID-19 wards reduced incidence of staff coronavirus infection to virtually zero.

While only a small study, the results are cited by the RCN as evidence FFP3 masks should be worn by all nursing staff caring for people known to have or suspected of having coronavirus.

Access to FFP3 masks – Q&A

Rose Gallagher, infection prevention and control professional lead at the RCN
Rose Gallagher

Answers by RCN professional lead for infection prevention and control Rose Gallagher

Can I now ask for a FFP3 mask while caring for patients with COVID-19?

Nursing staff should feel empowered to ask for the highest level of protection in the workplace. This will vary for different roles and care settings and should be done after a full risk assessment by your manager and employer.

My employer says I do not need a FFP3 mask, what should I do?

Staff should ask for their employer’s risk assessment and request the highest level of protection – especially if they work with patients known to have or are suspected of having COVID-19. In the first instance, concerns should be raised with line managers.

Can I refuse to care of patients with COVID-19 if an FFP3 mask is not provided?

The RCN says nursing staff, in all settings, must be fully protected when caring for their patients. The college has issued guidance to follow when deciding whether the personal protective equipment provided is appropriate and what to do if it is not.

‘Guidance on use of FFP3 masks is unclear’

Personal protective equipment guidance from Public Health England (PHE), updated on 1 June, says NHS organisations must assess the risk posed by COVID-19 to staff and provide FFP3 masks where appropriate.

But RCN professional lead for infection prevention and control Rose Gallagher says nurses want simplified guidance, so that any health worker caring for patients with known or suspected COVID-19 can access FFP3 masks. ‘Our members continue to raise concerns that the PHE guidance is still unclear about the use of FFP3 masks,’ she says.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it updates advice to reflect the latest scientific evidence.


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