Amid concerns from members that standard personal protective equipment (PPE) may not provide adequate protection against highly infectious strains of COVID-19, the RCN is demanding NHS staff be given the higher grade of PPE (FFP2/3) as a precaution.
Currently, guidance leaves the decision on which grade of PPE is supplied to staff with individual trusts and hospitals, creating widespread disparity with some hospitals offering higher level respiratory PPE than others.
The RCN is escalating calls on the government to demand an urgent review of the infection control guidance. This follows earlier interventions to the Chief Scientific Officer and Chief Medical Officer seeking their assurance, alongside the British Medical Association (BMA), which have yet to get a reply.
The RCN has campaigned vociferously on PPE throughout the pandemic, including in relation to issues affecting BAME staff.
RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “The government’s silence on this issue is creating worrying inconsistencies in PPE for nursing staff whereby some working on wards have access to the higher-grade face masks and others do not.
“It must stop dragging its feet on this issue. Nursing staff need to have full confidence that they are protected.
“Staff picking up this virus at work are angered at any suggestion they have stopped following the rules – this is down to the new variant and the dangerous shortage of adequate protection.”
In her letter to health minister Jo Churchill, Donna writes: “We are very concerned that our members may now be at greater risk of infection as a result of their occupation.
“They are aware that fluid repellent surgical face masks and face coverings, as currently advised in most general healthcare settings and patients’ homes, are not protective against smaller infective aerosols despite the government video outlining risks of infective aerosols in the air.”
The letter to the Health and Safety Executive, co-signed by the BMA, states: “In the absence of clarity on the reasons behind the new variants’ increased infectivity, we are calling for the Health and Safety Executive to take a precautionary approach and to use your role as a regulator to ensure employers and those developing national guidance meet and understand their responsibilities.
“Adequate supplies of PPE that meet the required specifications are vital to support nursing staff to do their jobs safely. Without support to use suitable PPE, nursing staff are putting their own lives, and the lives of their colleagues, families and patients, at risk.”