Many healthcare staff continue to report having to use unsuitable personal protective equipment (PPE), according to the British Medical Association which has called for enhanced and more appropriate PPE to be made available to staff in all healthcare settings.

BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul has written to the Government’s health minister for prevention, public health and primary care Jo Churchill as well as Public Health England. The letter calls for FFP3 type PPE to be available to doctors and healthcare staff across all Covid and non-Covid workplace areas, and for an urgent review of its guidance on infection prevention and control.

Dr Nagpaul said it was unacceptable that any medical professional should have to compromise their own health and safety by having to use unsuitable PPE and called for an end to ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches to health and safety.

He said: "NHS staff have been unwavering in their professionalism and dedication to protecting the health and wellbeing of their patients. In turn, no doctor’s safety should be compromised by a lack of suitable PPE.

"Female doctors are still struggling to find masks that fit, often failing the "fit test" or being left with sores and ulcers after long shifts when wearing masks that did not fit. We have raised concerns in the past that PPE is designed to fit men, even though 75 per cent of the NHS workforce are women.

"Guidance and provision must take account of differing needs of the individual healthcare worker; no matter who you are, you should have proper-fitting PPE – regardless of gender, ethnicity and religion."

Wider protection for healthcare staff

Writing to PHE interim chief executive Michael Brodie, BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said that, with PPE no longer in short supply, there was strong evidence to support extending the use of FFP3 respirators outside of emergency-room Covid zones and to other parts of hospitals, GP practices and healthcare settings.

He said: "The BMA has consistently emphasised the importance of providing doctors with adequate protection from the virus. During the spring [of 2020], PHE guidance on PPE use was being driven by supply, or lack of it. Now that we have been assured that supply is no longer an issue, we believe guidance should be updated to take a more precautionary approach to better protect those working on the front line.

"There is evidence indicating lower infection rates among staff working in areas where full respiratory protective equipment is currently recommended, and the WHO now identifies that where respirators are available, they should be considered for wider use."

He added that some trusts are leading the way by protecting their staff with enhanced PPE (such as FFP3 respirators) in ‘amber’ as well as ‘red’ settings, and in ‘green’ areas where proven or potential AGPs may take place – we would like to see this extended across the board.

This is important as some hospitals are reporting that a surge in patient demand means their departments can no longer effectively maintain Covid-free areas, meaning that access to FFP-type PPE was now essential for all staff.