Hundreds of medical professionals have appealed for higher-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) amid growing concern over airborne transmission of coronavirus.
In an open letter to political leaders, doctors, nurses and consultants say healthcare workers on the general wards are about twice as likely to contract Covid-19 than intensive care unit staff, who have the best equipment.
They suggest this is down to increased aerosol protection given by higher-grade PPE and better ventilation in intensive care units.
The Royal College of Nursing backed the appeal, calling for a review of the existing PPE guidance and ventilation in hospitals “without delay”.
How much virus transmission takes place by aerosols – small droplets which can linger in the air for hours – is still not known.
World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines focus on the virus being spread primarily through larger droplets from the nose or mouth from coughing, sneezing and speaking, but it has acknowledged “emerging evidence” that Covid-19 could be spread through particles in the air.
Current Public Health England (PHE) guidance on the type of PPE used centres on whether a procedure is deemed to be “aerosol generating” or “non-aerosol generating”.
But the letter states: “This is no longer compatible with what we now know.”
The group delivering the appeal is Fresh Air NHS, which describes itself as “a group of frontline healthcare workers and supporters who recognise the importance of airborne SARS Co-V 2.”
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, a review of PPE guidance, and for hospitals to maximise natural ventilation.
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.”
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), 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”.
The open letter can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DlqkIAHD5PLCAlOKyNRWsblhlwVS8FqK