The UK Government and NHS leaders from a range of medical and nursing royal colleges have published new guidance about personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS teams who are likely to come into contact with patients with Covid-19.

The guidance has been agreed by the four Chief Medical Officers, Chief Nursing Officers and Chief Dental Officers in the UK and is applicable in all parts of the UK.

In a statement, the government said that the guidance reflects the fact that coronavirus is now widespread in the community, meaning clinicians are more likely to see patients with the virus, some of whom may have minimal or no symptoms.

It also said that the guidance is based on the best scientific evidence and the World Health Organization (WHO) have confirmed it is consistent with what it recommends in circumstances and settings with the highest risk of transmission.

Guidance protects stock levels from unnecessary use

The guidance recommends the 'safest level of personal protective equipment (PPE)' to protect NHS healthcare workers and specifies the type of PPE that should be worn in the various healthcare settings where patients are cared for.  

This guidance also protects stock levels from unnecessary use and support staff to use the right equipment.

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England said: "It is absolutely right that frontline staff have the appropriate PPE so they are safe and can have the confidence they need to do their jobs."

It advises:

  • any clinician working in a hospital, primary care or community care setting within two metres of a suspected or confirmed coronavirus Covid-19 patient should wear an apron, gloves, surgical mask and eye protection, based on the risk
  • in some circumstances PPE, particularly masks and eye protection which is there to protect the health and care worker can be worn for an entire session and doesn’t need to be changed between patients, as long as it is safe to do so
  • more detail on what PPE to use in different clinical scenarios as well as community settings, such as care homes and caring for individuals in their own homes
  • when carrying out aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) clinicians should wear a higher level of protective equipment, these are listed out in the guidance
  • use of aprons rather than gowns for non-AGPs, including advice on thoroughly washing forearms if there is a risk of exposure to droplets, consistent with the UK policy of bare below the elbows and evidence reviews on the risks of healthcare acquired infections. There is enough supply of all safe PPE being recommended
  • WHO recommends the use of FFP2 masks but the guidance says it has gone further and recommends the use of FFP3 masks as there is good stock of FFP3 masks in the UK.

Andrew Goddard, President of the Royal College of Physicians added: "Today’s updated guidance provides what clinicians have been asking for - a single set of recommendations which cover all NHS settings. We know that there has been a lot of confusion and concern over the past few weeks. I hope that this guidance will both reassure clinicians that they are being listened to, and give them the confidence that they are safe when caring for COVID-19 patients."