Better protection against COVID-19 for healthcare workers in England must be an immediate priority, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA.

Location: England
Published: Thursday 23 December 2021

The BMA is calling for a range of measures to better protect healthcare workers against COVID-19 which includes correctly fitted Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE), improving ventilation, reducing crowding and ensuring that risk assessments are conducted and kept up to date.

The BMA has written letters to NHS hospital Trusts outlining their responsibilities as employers to keep their employees safe, urging Chief Executives to provide stronger respiratory protective equipment (RPE) – such as the FFP3 face masks – and conduct risk assessments.

Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said: “We’ve repeatedly said that the current levels of protection are unsuitable. Seeing the changes to RPE in the Infection Prevention and Control national guidance is one step in the right direction but these measures just don’t go far enough. Healthcare workers in hospitals and in GP surgeries are putting themselves and potentially their own families at risk, particularly with this new highly transmissible Omicron variant.”

The letters have been written on the back of the updated Infection Prevention and Control national guidance and the new WHO recommendations on mask-wearing for healthcare workers.

The BMA has separately also written to NHSEI to ask that GPs have access to higher grade masks and are given guidance on how to keep safe in often small and cramped surgeries. There is currently no system in place to provide GPs with respirator masks, nor for fit testing. NHS supplies for GP practices are restricted to fluid replacement surgical masks. This is despite the known additional benefits of FFP3 masks.

Dr Sharma, continued: “We know that doctors and healthcare workers have had to battle for the right PPE throughout the pandemic, leading to unacceptable loss of life. With a highly-transmissible new strain now circulating – and clear evidence showing that COVID-19 spreads in small airborne particles - healthcare workers must be given the best possible protection against the virus from the moment they step into their place of work.

“The virus is present in the exhaled breath or cough, so particularly in poorly ventilated and crowded environments, healthcare workers can be at risk at any time when they are in the vicinity of people with COVID-19, and not just when they are performing specific close contact procedures.

“At this critical point in the pandemic, ensuring better protection for healthcare workers is a matter of life and death.”

The letter to NHS Trusts in England lays out the responsibilities of employers under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, explaining that it’s a statutory responsibility for them to identify any hazards to their employees’ health at work. The letter explains that this responsibility is in addition to, and is even more important than, the Infection Prevention and Control national guidance.

The letter to NHSEI asks for clarity on the Infection Prevention and Control guidance and how it relates to GP surgeries, particularly in terms of the use of RPE. GPs have also asked for clarity on how they can safely see patients with COVID-19 symptoms.

Dr Farah Jameel, BMA GPC England chair, said, “We see patients in poorly ventilated, small and cramped areas, without proper RPE and it’s just not safe for GPs, their teams or patients. With Omicron’s increased transmissibility and the rapid infection rates we now have in the community, it’s even more crucial that GPs have quick access to RPE. We’re also keen to work with NHSEI in terms of how and where we see patients who have or are suspected to have COVID-19, whether that’s outside the surgery, or in specially designed separate COVID-19 hubs.”

 

Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.