Omicron: Call for 'urgent review' of PPE in Wales

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Image caption,
FFP3 masks offer high-grade protection

There are calls for an "urgent review" of PPE given to healthcare workers in light of the new Omicron variant.

Medical unions said higher grade masks should be standard as they offer more protection from coronavirus than basic surgical masks.

FFP3 and FFP2 (filtering facepiece) masks are currently only available to medics performing certain procedures.

The Welsh government said PPE (personal protective equipment) guidance was "constantly reviewed."

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the British Medical Association (BMA) raised the matter with Health Minister Eluned Morgan earlier this week.

A study from earlier this year found the quality of face masks health staff wear makes a significant difference to their risk of coronavirus infection.

But UK-wide guidance states that FFP3 masks should only be available to staff involved in "aerosol generating procedures" such as intubating a patient, or where a local risk assessment suggests they are needed.

The BMA said FFP3 masks should be standard in all hospital settings where there are Covid patients, and the slightly lower grade FFP2 in other settings.

Nicky Hughes, from RCN Wales, said it had urged the Welsh government with Public Health Wales (PHW) to undertake an "urgent review of infection prevention and control guidance relating to the use of PPE".

She said: "Over the last year the RCN has continued to campaign for precautionary principals to be implemented regarding FFP2 and FFP3 masks for general clinical areas to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission and increase safety for staff and patients.

"With the high transmissibility of the new Omicron variant it is essential that we keep NHS workers safe and would support a quick decision for greater availability of the FFP2 and FFP3 masks."

Dr David Bailey, of BMA Cymru Wales, said he believed the UK's chief medical officers were discussing changing the guidance.

Asked if he was frustrated the change has not yet been made, he said: "Yes, we think that the evidence is sufficient to suggest that these masks are superior.

"We need to protect the workforce, we need to make sure that they're not going off sick with even mild viral symptoms."

He added there was a need to do "everything we can" to reduce the chance of infection in hospitals and GP surgeries, due to the risks to vulnerable people.

Image caption,
FFP3 masks are currently only used in "aerosol generating procedures"

Hugh McDyer, of the Unison union, echoed the call from the BMA and said discussions with the Welsh government were continuing.

Campaign group Fresh Air NHS has long called for higher grade masks to become the norm.

One if its members, Dr Eilir Hughes, recently praised Betsi Cadwaladr health board for making the masks available to more staff, and called for other health boards to follow.

Sue Green, from Betsi Cadwaladr, said the move "exceeds the Welsh government's guidance".

A Welsh government spokeswoman said: "We have clear guidance for staff who come into direct contact with patients or service users and this is constantly reviewed.

"Ensuring all health and social care workers have the correct PPE is an absolute priority and since the start of the pandemic more than a billion items of PPE have been issued across health and social care.

"We will continue to follow national guidance, which takes into account emerging evidence in its advice to us."