The Prime Minister must help prevent further loss of life by acting on the evidence around the need for better ventilation and higher grade PPE, a coalition of health experts argue today.
Health and care workers are at three to four times greater risk of developing and dying from COVID-19 virus than the general public and deliver care at “huge personal risk”.
Across the UK, at least 930 health and care workers to date have lost their lives and many more are suffering from long-term adverse effects of COVID-19.
In a joint letter to Boris Johnson, signed by leading health organisations including the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the British Medical Association (BMA) and academics such as Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, they call for a “ change in approach must be implemented at speed” to protect staff and patients.
The experts argue that current policies over-emphasise the importance of fomite, droplet and direct spread at the expense of “mission-critical” measures to reduce airborne transmission in high-risk health and care settings, which remain inadequate.
UK Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) guidance, which determines PPE use across the UK, does not convey the importance of ventilation and the risks when sharing health and care settings - including working in patient’s homes and public buildings.
The signatories are calling for the Prime Minister to do five things:
- Ensure all health and care providers assess and improve the quality of ventilation in all settings to reduce the risks of airborne spread;
- Amend the UK IPC guidance to reflect an increase in the level of respiratory protection as a precautionary principle for all health and care workers providing care to people with known or suspected COVID-19, or a as result of local risk assessment
- Update all guidance to reflect the evidence on airborne transmission, ensuring representation from a truly multidisciplinary range of experts including engineering, aerosol science, occupational health, infection prevention and control and behavioural science in addition to stakeholders such as Royal Colleges, professional and scientific bodies and trade unions
- Collect and publish consistent data on health care workers who have contracted COVID-19 from likely occupational exposure so we can identify health and care settings where staff are most affected and target responses to address this
- Publish, in accessible form, the scientific evidence on airborne transmission in health and care settings and support research to fill any knowledge gaps
The letter addressed to the Prime Minsters says:
“Health and care workers are at three to four times greater risk of developing and dying from COVID-19 than the general public. However, measures to reduce airborne spread in high-risk health and care settings, which are mission-critical to the pandemic response, have thus far been inadequate. Current policies continue to emphasise the importance of fomite, droplet and direct spread but do not properly address airborne transmission.
“We believe that given the rapid emergence and evolution of new variants of concern, a change in approach must be implemented at speed to protect patients and staff consistently across the UK.”
“This is a UK-wide issue. Where coordinated, national action could make a decisive difference. We therefore look to the UK Government, and you as Prime Minister, to take the lead to address the inconsistencies and gaps in guidance and in the protection of patients and health and care workers.”
The full list of signatories to the letter are:
- British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN)
- British Association of Stroke Physicians
- Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
- Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA)
- Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists
- College of Paramedics
- British Dietetic Association
- Allied Health Professionals Association
- Royal College of Nursing
- UK Critical Care Nursing Alliance
- Royal Pharmaceutical Society
- Royal College of Midwives
- British Medical Association
- Aerosol Generating Procedure Alliance
- British Association of Critical Care Nurses
- Fresh Air NHS
- The Queen's Nursing Institute
- College of Podiatry
- Kidney Care UK
- GMB Union
- Association of Nephrology Nurses UK