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NURSES are facing a potentially deadly “postcode lottery” in personal protective equipment (PPE) thanks to government indecision, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warns today.
The union says that updated government guidance on infection prevention issued on Thursday night fails to address concerns on PPE thrown up by new highly infectious variants of Covid-19 and will worsen variation between hospitals.
The union has told the government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that all NHS staff should be issued with higher-grade masks, as used routinely in intensive-care units, pending urgent review of the guidance.
The guidance currently accepts the use of different masks in neighbouring hospitals, with some offering staff higher-level respiratory PPE and others not, despite similarly high risk.
With staff absence due to Covid-19 up by 22 per cent as the highly infectious strain spreads, RCN leader Dame Donna Kinnair has written to the government and the HSE warning that inadequate kit may be putting lives at risk.
The union said that members had expressed concern that the standard face mask may not be effective in protecting against new strains of the virus — said to be 70 per cent more infectious — and possible airborne spreading in healthcare settings.
Ms Kinnair said: “The government’s silence on this issue is creating a postcode lottery 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.”
Ms Kinnair’s letter to health minister Jo Churchill demands assurance that the Infection Prevention and Control guidance will be made sufficiently robust in light of the new variants to protect health and care staff and patients in all settings.
It also demands that nursing staff are supported to use higher-grade respiratory masks based on local risk assessment as a precautionary approach to protecting staff from airborne spread of infection.
Her letter to HSE chief executive Sarah Albon calls on the body to conduct an urgent review of the guidance and to “ensure employers and those developing national guidance meet and understand their responsibilities.”
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