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FFP3 masks needed as standard demands RCN as sickness absence rates soar

7 Jan 2022

All health care workers must be provided with FFP3 masks when treating people with known or suspected COVID-19.

FFP3 face mask

New data published by NHS England today (7 January) shows the number of hospital staff off work due to COVID-19 rose by almost 60% in the most recent week and has more than trebled in a month to nearly 40,000 staff in a single day. 

The RCN says staff treating people with known or suspected COVID-19 must be given the highest grade FFP3 masks so they’re better protected from being infected at work. 

RCN Director for England Patricia Marquis said: “Too many nursing staff are exposed to COVID-19 at work due to improper protection – highest grade FFP3 masks and priority testing need to be provided as standard.”

Airborne transmission of COVID-19 poses a significant risk to nursing staff working within two metres of a person with the virus, and the RCN insists this must be acknowledged within national infection prevention and control guidance. 

We continue to remind employers of their legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of workers from the risk of COVID-19. 

This includes making adequate PPE available to all staff as required, with training on use and face fit testing. If suitable risk assessments and PPE are not routinely provided, members should raise these concerns with their employer following the RCN’s guidance

Members are also encouraged to use our COVID-19 workplace risk assessment toolkit, which aims to support local decision making on the level of PPE required to protect them at work. 

Meanwhile, we’ve urged caution against the government’s changed approach to PCR testing. 

It was announced earlier this week that from 11 January in England, people who receive positive lateral flow device test results for COVID-19 will be required to self-isolate immediately and won’t be required to take a confirmatory PCR test. 

This is a temporary measure while COVID-19 rates remain high across the UK. 

Rose Gallagher, RCN Professional Lead for Infection Prevention and Control, said ministers are missing the point.  

“The top priority must remain preventing the spread of COVID-19. Nursing staff must feel confident this approach won’t inadvertently lead to the virus running rampant in their workplaces.”  

“COVID PCR tests are the gold standard – they are more accurate and allow potential new variants, clusters and outbreaks to be identified,” she added. 

“There is no room for compromise where patient-facing roles are concerned and instead of changing the guidance, the government should be ensuring health care workers are prioritised for COVID-19 tests – both PCR and lateral flow tests.”

The RCN has a full range of COVID-19 resources, which are continually updated in response to emerging issues. Find out more.  

Page last updated - 07/06/2022