In February, the RCN led a coalition of health experts, writing to the Prime Minister to demand he urgently tackles “inadequate” protection of nursing staff from COVID-19. The response received recently fails to recognise growing evidence that the virus can be spread in tiny particles known as aerosols, leaving nursing staff exposed to new variants of concern.
UK guidance only recommends the use of higher grade FFP3 respiratory masks, which can block aerosols, for a limited range of procedures, despite them being used more widely by health care workers in other countries.
COVID-19 is more likely to be spread in crowded areas, indoor spaces or places with large numbers of infected individuals. This makes hospitals and other health and care settings particularly high risk, and applies to other indoor spaces such as people’s own homes, where they may receive nursing care.
Rose Gallagher, RCN Professional Lead for Infection Prevention and Control, says the UK is now lagging significantly behind other countries in its approach to PPE and infection control.
She said: “We know that health care worker deaths have been reduced in other countries where there has been a strong commitment to providing higher levels of PPE. The UK has much to learn about transmission of COVID-19 within our hospitals and risks from this airborne infection.
"We must act now to improve ventilation and provide adequate PPE in all care settings as standard, if required, so as to not to add to the sobering statistics of hundreds of health care professionals who have sadly have died due to COVID-19.”
The RCN is also warning against sole reliance on the vaccination programme.
“Despite current success in reducing infections in the general population, not all staff have been vaccinated and no vaccine is 100% effective,” Rose added. “The threat of new variants is very real, and a third wave is predicted, so we must not assume the pandemic is behind us.”