Give FFP3 masks to NHS staff during Omicron, doctors say | Coronavirus
NHS staff who treat Covid patients should be given much more protective masks than thin surgical masks to help them avoid infection during the rise of Omicron, doctors say.
The British Medical Association (BMA), Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) and Doctors’ Association UK are calling for frontline staff to receive FFP3 masks.
Making the standard issue of face masks much better would save the lives of health workers who fall ill as a result of treating Covid patients, the BMA said. “At this critical point in the pandemic, this is extremely urgent – a matter of life and death,” said Professor Raymond Agius, acting chairman of the doctors’ union’s occupational health committee.
FFP3 masks, also known as filter mask respirators, have been shown in an essay at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge to reduce the number of infected health workers.
However, the Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSC) advice on personal protective equipment, updated last week, recommends their use only in limited circumstances.
“With a new, highly transmissible strain currently circulating and clear evidence that Covid-19 spreads in small airborne particles, healthcare workers need the best possible protection against the virus. Surgical masks do not provide the necessary protection against airborne transmission of Covid, ”Agius said.
The BMA has written to every hospital trust in England to demand that any healthcare professional treating patients who are or could be positive for Covid are routinely issued with FFP3s, which are much more expensive than the surgical masks usually provided.
Surgical masks are “unsuitable” given the threat posed by Covid, estimates the BMA.
In his letter, he reminded hospital managers of their legal responsibilities as employers to protect their staff from harm, including providing FFP3s.
A handful of hospitals are expected to use FFP3 respirators that come standard, but most do not.
Dr Claudia Paoloni, president of the HCSA, said giving staff proper PPE would help reduce the growing tide of sickness absences among frontline workers who contract Covid.
“If we don’t get PPE properly, we risk contributing to a new wave of sickness absence when hospitals and patients can least afford it.
“The current reliance on inadequate fluid-resistant surgical masks is likely to leave staff vulnerable in closed hospitals,” Paoloni said.
“The fear, as in 2020, is that we are seeing a cavalier approach to security where infection control guidelines are again driven by supply and cost issues.
“We need hospitals to see meaning and take a precautionary approach,” making FFP3s available to anyone who wants to use one instead of a surgical mask, Paoloni added.
The BMA has also written to NHS England asking them to ensure that all GP practices also have FFP3 instead of surgical masks, especially because family doctors often work in small, cramped surgeries.
“Healthcare workers in hospitals and general practitioner practices are putting themselves and potentially their own families at risk, especially with this new, highly transmissible variant of Omicron,” said Dr Vishal Sharma, chairman of the BMA pension committee.
Updated DHSC guidelines, released last Tuesday, state that “staff should assess any likely risk of exposure to blood and body fluids and ensure that PPE are worn that provide adequate protection against the risks associated with the procedure or the task undertaken “. However, he advises frontline staff to use an FFP3 only if they are undertaking an aerosol-generating procedure, such as intubating a patient who is switching to a mechanical ventilator, and not with Covid patients in general.
A DHSC spokesperson confirmed that it does not plan to recommend the routine use of FFP3 masks.
“The safety of the NHS and social service staff has always been our top priority and we continue to provide PPE to protect people on the front lines.
“Advice on appropriate levels and standards of PPE is written by clinical experts. An update to the infection prevention control guidelines was released this month to reflect the latest scientific knowledge on how to prevent the transmission of Covid-19.
“Evidence and emerging data are continuously monitored and reviewed and guidelines will be amended accordingly, as appropriate. “