NHS doctors and nurses demand higher quality face masks

NHS doctors and nurses demand higher quality face masks amid fears their PPE isn’t good enough to stop new coronavirus variant on high-risk wards

  • Fresh Air NHS group has called for better PPE on hospital wards for staff
  • They say ward staff are twice as likely to catch virus compared to intensive care
  • Royal College of Nursing has also backed the appeal and called for a review 

Doctors and nurses working in British hospitals are demanding higher grade PPE to protect themselves from the faster-spreading variant of coronavirus.   

In an open letter to politicians, 800 medics have warned staff on general wards are twice as likely to catch Covid-19 as those in intensive care so they should get the same quality protective equipment.  

They said all medics should get the FFP3 mask – which has an air filter and can cost as much as £10 each – rather than standard surgical masks.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) backed the appeal, calling for a review of the existing PPE guidance and ventilation in hospitals ‘without delay’. 

World Health Organization guidelines say the main way the virus is spread is through droplets from the nose or mouth from coughing, sneezing and speaking.

People in hospital with the virus may be more likely to spread it than others because they generally have worse infections, which may mean they’re carrying more of the virus in their body, and more symptoms, so they’re more likely to cough. 

The letter has reawakened issues from the first wave of the epidemic when, during spring 2020, health and care workers were furious with the Government for not providing them with enough PPE to do their jobs safely. Some staff resorted to wearing bin bags because they couldn’t get the right gear. 

Intensive care staff (pictured, a team at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge) get higher quality equipment because they have to work closer to sicker patients. NHS workers on general Covid wards are now demanding they get better quality PPE, too

Pictured above is the FFP3 mask, which Fresh Air NHS says all doctors and nurses should have

The action group Fresh Air NHS, which says it represents front-line healthcare workers who ‘recognise the importance of airborne SARS-CoV-2’, sent the letter.

It called for all staff working with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 patients to have access to a more advanced FFP3 mask, which contains an air filter.

The FFP3 mask is made with thicker material than a standard surgical mask, and fits snugly over the nose and mouth, rather than more loosely across the face. 

The petition added that PPE guidance must be reviewed, and said hospitals should maximise their natural ventilation through actions such as opening windows. 

The letter states: ‘We implore that these recommendations are implemented across the UK as soon as possible. Mass vaccination and its impacts on rates of transmission will take time to take effect.

‘It is therefore imperative to maximise science-based preventative measures towards aerosol/airborne transmission in addition to standard droplet precautions in healthcare settings now.’ 

They add: ‘It is now essential that healthcare workers have their PPE upgraded to protect against airborne transmission.

‘The inhalation of viral aerosols, whether the susceptible person is near the source or at more distant locations are most effectively interrupted by a respiratory protection device, such as an N95 filtering face-piece respirator.

‘A significant proportion of the NHS workforce is unavailable to help at this peak time owing to sickness and a need to self-isolate because of SARS-CoV-2.

‘This adds to the already perilous situation of remaining staff being tired, overworked and prone to making errors.

‘Not only are staff contracting SARS-CoV-2 in healthcare settings, but also patients admitted for reasons other than Covid-19 are acquiring it in hospital.

‘In the first half of November, approximately 20 per cent of hospital cases for SARS-CoV-2 had been acquired in hospitals.’ 

The RCN has backed their appeal, and also called for PPE to be improved.

Dame Donna Kinnair, its chief executive, said: ‘Nursing staff and all healthcare professionals need urgent reassurance from government ministers and scientists that they are sufficiently protected from the new variant both by PPE and safety procedures in their place of work.

‘Without delay, they must state whether existing PPE guidance is adequate for the new variant.’

She called for staff working with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases to be given higher-level PPE and called for a review ‘of the effectiveness of ventilation in health and care buildings’.


NHS figures yesterday revealed that a record number of very-sick patients waited on trolleys in A&E during December.

The data, seen by the Health Service Journal, shows that more than 2,930 people spent at least 12 hours in A&E departments.

Nearly half of these were in London.

The previous highest number of 12-hour trolley waits – the time between arriving at A&E and receiving a bed – was 2,847 in January 2020.

The provisional figures – which will probably increase -are set to be published officially by NHS England next week. 

Vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Adrian Boyle told The Times: ‘No one needs to spend 12 hours in an emergency department. 

‘Not only is it undignified for patients, but studies have found that the longer a patient waits for admission to a hospital bed, the greater the risk of death.’

He added: ‘These waits usually result from a lack of inpatient beds and staff, and — as well as putting the patient at risk — lead to further dangerous crowding and corridor care within the emergency department. 

He said the more patients there are on stretchers, the more difficult it is to administer care in an already-strained A&E.

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