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RCN position on personal protective equipment (PPE) for COVID-19

Published: 07 January 2022
Last updated: 07 January 2022
Abstract: RCN position on personal protective equipment (PPE) for COVID-19

As a royal college and professional trade union representing around 465,000 members, the RCN recognises the airborne route of transmission poses a significant risk to healthcare workers when working within 2m of a person known or suspected to have COVID-19.

Therefore, we call for the current evidence on airborne transmission of COVID-19 that underpins the UK government’s campaign to ‘Stop COVID-19 hanging around' to be urgently actioned within all health and care settings and to be clearly acknowledged within current national infection prevention and control guidance. The emergence and rapid escalating spread of the Omicron variant is exacerbating workforce absences to an unprecedented level with risks to both patient safety and the mental and physical health of healthcare workers.

All employers must discharge their legal duty to adequately protect the health, safety, and welfare of all their employees from the risk of COVID-19. Healthcare workers are known to have an increased risk of being infected with COVID-19. Additionally, those working in unpredictable situations such as people’s own homes, accident and emergency departments or urgent care in frequent contact with people whose infection status is unknown are particularly at risk. 

The RCN is therefore calling for all healthcare workers to be provided with FFP3 masks for contact with people who are known to be or potentially infected with COVID-19.

On behalf of RCN members, all employers are reminded to make available adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) including respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to all staff as required. This must be accompanied by suitable training on use and face fit testing where appropriate. We call on all health and care regulators to target and inspect employers regarding their adherence with the provision of adequate RPE with immediate effect.

If members are concerned that suitable risk assessments are not being undertaken or are not being actively shared by their employer, and PPE such as FFP3 masks are not routinely provided, they should raise these concerns with their employer as per our RCN advice, 'Raising concerns'. Members can also report these issues directly to the Health & Safety Executive here.

The RCN will continue highlighting the risk of COVID-19 transmission via the air to ensure our members, the wider nursing profession and patients are provided with safe working and caring environments.