RCN Position on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for COVID-19

The RCN has raised concerns throughout this pandemic on the lack of meaningful stakeholder and multi-professional engagement in the development of the UK Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) guidance. This UK-wide guidance represents the key resource to support and protect our patients and health and care staff from infection.

As a Royal College and professional trade union representing the largest directly affected workforce, with over 450,000 members, we are disappointed and concerned that due consideration of current evidence and suitability of guidance to different care settings and specialities along with implementation requirements has not had proper attention.

The evolution of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VoC) associated with increased transmission of the virus and rapid rise in healthcare worker infections and sickness absence has raised many questions regarding the risk of airborne transmission of the virus and quality of ventilation to mitigate this in health and care settings. The RCN has written to the Heads of NHS Estates in each UK country on this issue but with only one response.  We also wrote, alongside other organisations to the Prime Minister on this issue and related concerns, but we have yet to receive a response.

In the absence of any assurance regarding ventilation we therefore must question whether healthcare workers are currently adequately protected as per the UK IPC guidance advice on use of PPE.

As such, based on a lack of assurance regarding ventilation and concerns identified in our recent independent review of the evidence used to develop the UK IPC evidence the RCN is actively advocating for a precautionary approach to the use of PPE, specifically respiratory protective equipment such as FFP3 masks.

On behalf of our members, we remind employers in all care settings, of their responsibility to undertake risk assessments and make available higher-grade respiratory PPE to all staff if required.  This must be accompanied by fit testing and training where a risk assessment identifies the need.

The RCN also expects recommendations in our independent review (RCN 2021) to be given due consideration and adoption.

Where members are concerned they should raise these with their employer as per our RCN advice, Raising concerns.

We know that in the face of this crisis, our members want to deliver the best and safest care they can and deserve adequate and appropriate protection whilst working.

We will keep raising and recording all responses to this issue across health and care services until it is resolved. 

Statement last updated: 10th March 2021


RCN COVID-19 Independent Review

An independent review of guidelines for the prevention and control of COVID-19 in health care settings in the UK, and an evaluation and messages for future infection-related emergency planning.

To our members concerned about lack of adequate PPE, we advise them to:

  • Familiarise themselves with their employers’ risk assessment for COVID-19 duties
  • Ensure there is a risk assessment put in place that says PPE is required and that this is accessible
  • submit a near miss form any time they are not provided with adequate PPE
  • contact the relevant Nursing Director, COO or Managing Director if they feel unsafe.

As always, members can contact the RCN if they have any concerns about their workplace. There is further guidance on our COVID-19 FAQs page.