Public Health England has updated its guidance on infection prevention and control in healthcare settings and recommends the wider use of respiratory protective equipment for staff where a risk cannot otherwise be managed.
Responding to the updated guidance, BMA council chair, Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, said: “Throughout the pandemic the BMA has led the calls for adequate protection for healthcare workers battling this disease on the front line. Not least, as evidence emerged of the way the virus spread through the air, we have consistently called on the Government and policymakers to take a precautionary approach to PPE, by recommending the wider use of appropriate PPE such as FFP3 respirators.
“The updated guidance is therefore a step in the right direction, and asserts the legal obligations of carrying out proper risk assessments and implementing specific measures to manage risks. Crucially, it recommends that respiratory PPE (such as FFP3 masks) must be considered where the threat from passing on Covid remains high, and should not be limited to those areas where ‘aerosol-generating procedures’ (AGP) are taking place. This means extending their use to those staff whose exposure to airborne particles from a patient is no less, and whose risk of contracting Covid is therefore no less than for those engaged in those procedures classified as AGPs.
“Despite the majority of staff now having been vaccinated with two doses, it is important that those working on the front line should be given stronger guarantees with appropriate PPE (rather than just surgical masks), given that no vaccine provides complete protection. With the new variant being highly transmissible and more resistant to vaccines, we cannot give the virus any opportunity to spread if we have the means to prevent it.
“Ultimately, if doctors become infected, not only is there a risk that they pass on the virus to patients, but if they become very ill they are unable to provide care and patients do not get the treatment they need.
“Therefore, employers must now look at this guidance and implement it locally, protecting staff, and in doing so, protecting patients and minimising the wider impact on health services.”