Comment

One year into the pandemic, why are nurses still not getting effective PPE?

Ignoring WHO recommendations leaves staff feeling undervalued – and that takes its toll

Ignoring WHO recommendations leaves staff feeling undervalued and that takes its toll

Youve got maskne, said my daughter.

It sounded like mask-knee, so I assured her I was wearing my face covering over my mouth and nose like everyone else, and not halfway down my leg, as she seemed to assume. She rolled her eyes and explained what she meant an acne-type rash from sporting a mask.

PPE guidelines are based on flawed thinking

Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), even when its just a bit of cloth, is no joke. It has made me even more mindful of those working in healthcare in this pandemic, unable to trust

Ignoring WHO recommendations leaves staff feeling undervalued – and that takes its toll

‘Maskne’ is one of the more minor occupational hazards Picture: iStock

‘You’ve got maskne’, said my daughter.

It sounded like mask-knee, so I assured her I was wearing my face covering over my mouth and nose like everyone else, and not halfway down my leg, as she seemed to assume. She rolled her eyes and explained what she meant – an acne-type rash from sporting a mask.

PPE guidelines are based on flawed thinking

Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), even when it’s just a bit of cloth, is no joke. It has made me even more mindful of those working in healthcare in this pandemic, unable to trust the equipment they are supplied with.

The RCN recently called for a review of the UK-wide guidelines for PPE, after a report it commissioned challenged the evidence behind them, saying it does not correspond with updated World Health Organization advice.

The guidance fails to consider airborne infection as a key way the virus is transmitted, instead focusing on its spread through touch, say the report’s authors.

So, a year on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and nurses are still obliged to work in settings that they know are not safe, wearing uncomfortable and inadequate protection.

Protective gloves were unpopular in the 1970s

I never had to face such a vicious, virulent virus as this one as a nurse, but plenty of other nasty infectious diseases.

We had masks and flimsy cotton gowns, but we were not allowed to wear protective gloves way back in the 1970s. Covering our hands would act as a psychological barrier between us and the patients, we were told; it would make them feel unclean.

Of course, it was really nothing to do with patients’ sensitivities and much more about saving money. We had to scrub our hands using bars of disinfectant soap, which made them sore.

But what we did have was space. Those old Nightingale wards had high ceilings and huge windows – Florence being a fresh-air fiend – and, although it could be a bit chilly on occasions, any airborne bug had a fight on its hands.

Adequate PPE is fundamental, but it continues to be overlooked

It is hard to fathom – with all the estimable work by microbiologists on the COVID-19 vaccine, the researchers developing life-saving treatments, the billions of pounds thrown at the Track and Trace system – why something as fundamental as adequate PPE for healthcare workers appears to have been kept on the backburner.

It’s not only the physical risk that is the issue here, or the matter of cross-contamination. When you feel as though you are not valued or given the protection you need to do your job, day after day, it takes its toll on your mental health.

If nurses are to face another COVID surge, as predicted, the Department of Health and Social Care must make protecting its staff a priority – now.


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