Medics welcome scientific advice to consider higher grade masks for NHS staff
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A document from the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said FFP3/N95 masks - referred to as respiratory protective equipment (RPE) - may be necessary in scenarios where there is a risk of transmission despite other controls being in place.
The British Medical Association (BMA) welcomed the advice and said it is "imperative" that the Government keeps to its promise to protect NHS staff as a priority.
A Sage document titled Masks For Healthcare Workers To Mitigate Airborne Transmission Of SARS-CoV-2 says: "Where an unacceptable risk of transmission remains after rigorous application of the risk-assessment process (including application of measures higher in the hierarchy of controls) it may be necessary to consider the extended use of appropriate RPE (such as FFP3 masks) for patient care in specific situations."
The advice says the decision to implement FFP3 respirators for the care of patients with suspected or proven Covid-19 should be based on an infection prevention and control (IPC) risk assessment of the care area with effective leadership and organisational support.
"In particular, this should consider the likelihood of interaction with an infectious Covid-19 patient, the duration and proximity of exposure, and the application of other IPC measures," the document says.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: "Healthcare workers shouldn't be faced with an unnecessary risk of contracting Covid while caring for patients, and far too many have become ill and even died as a result of becoming infected.
"The only way to ensure that the risk of avoidable transmission is reduced is to provide frontline workers with adequate protection. It's not a huge ask - but rather a lifesaving one.
"Given evidence that, in addition to droplets, the virus can spread through airborne transmission which is not filtered by standard surgical masks - and the arrival of new, more transmissible Covid variants in the UK - the BMA has been calling for healthcare workers to be provided with enhanced PPE protection of FFP2/N95 respirators.
"We therefore welcome as a step in the right direction that Sage has recognised the need to consider the use of FFP3/N95 respirators on a risk assessment basis."
Dr Nagpaul said Covid-19 transmission amongst healthcare workers has serious consequences for the spread of coronavirus, not just to patients but between staff themselves "whose health and lives continue to be placed at risk - and the NHS's overall ability to care for patients".
He added: "It's imperative that the Government keeps to its promise to protect NHS staff as a priority.
"It's far time that we move beyond praising healthcare workers and look to ensure that the appropriate PPE is given to said healthcare workers to suit their individual needs, including providing them with appropriate respiratory protective equipment for patient care in specific situations.
"It's also important that robust research is conducted focussing on the evidence gaps identified in this document as a matter of urgency."