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Concerns about critical protective equipment putting extra pressure on nursing staff, RCN survey reveals

18 Apr 2020

​Survey of RCN members shows nursing staff are feeling under extra pressure because of concerns about access to and use of PPE.

Image of Coronavirus Nursing staff still lack access to the critical personal protective equipment (PPE) essential to doing their jobs safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the main message from a recent survey of RCN members in Scotland. The survey found that:

  • 25% of respondents working in high risk environments (where procedures are carried out that may increase risk of transmission of infection) had not had their mask fit tested (an essential procedure for effective performance of equipment) and 31% in these areas had not had training in putting on and taking off PPE
  • 47% of respondents working in high risk environments and 36% in general care environments (caring for patients with confirmed or potential COVID-19 that does not involve high risk procedures) said they had been asked to re-use single-use equipment 
  • 41% of respondents in all areas said they did not have access to suitable and sufficient changing facilities; and 50% said they did not have access to suitable and sufficient washing facilities, including showers
  • 69% of respondents in all areas had raised concerns about PPE, and 75% of those who raised a concern had that concern fully or partially addressed.

The situation is leading to increased stress on nursing staff and 46% of all respondents, including those working in the most high-risk environments, told us that they had felt pressured to care for a patient without appropriate PPE as outlined in current guidance.

Commenting on the survey results, Theresa Fyffe RCN Scotland Director, said: 

“The responses to this snapshot survey speak for themselves. It’s fundamental to personal safety and effective infection control that nursing staff have the correct PPE and that it fits properly. Incorrectly fitting PPE might not provide effective protection. It’s also essential that they are trained in its proper use and have adequate changing and washing facilities. 

“Our members are telling us this is not the case for everyone and the results support the concerns the RCN has been raising consistently during the pandemic. 

“The Scottish Government has assured staff that a lot of hard work is being done to improve and secure supply, distribution and use of PPE. These results show that there is still more to do. It’s time to make good on the promises that have been made to all nursing staff in the past few weeks.”

  • The RCN developed and distributed an online survey to all RCN members exploring respondent’s experiences of Personal and Protective Equipment (PPE) across all settings in health and social care. The link to this survey was emailed to all RCN members and publicised through our social media platforms. The survey was open over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, between Friday 10 April until Monday 13 April 2020. 
  • 1,465 RCN members who work in Scotland responded to the survey - 1,031 worked in ‘general care’; 226 worked in high risk environments; 208 worked in both. Of the respondents, 88% are registered nurses/midwives, 6% are nursing support workers, 6% selected other or student nurse.
  • In the survey ‘high risk environments’ were defined as: ‘environments where aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) or other high risk procedures were undertaken’. ‘General care’ was defined as ‘environments with patients with possible or suspected COVID-19 that DOES NOT involve taking part in high risk procedures’.
  • The RCN is planning to repeat this survey on a regular basis to assess how PPE and infection control are changing over time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The majority of questions were closed quantitative with one supplementary open-text question.

Page last updated - 17/05/2021