Guidance on PPE (personal protective equipment) must be updated to reflect the risks to medics and care workers from airborne transmission of Covid-19, a range of health organisations have said.
In a letter to Boris Johnson they said that lives are being put at risk and branded measures to reduce airborne spread of the virus in high-risk health and care settings – which they described as “mission-critical to the pandemic response” – as “inadequate”.
The coalition includes the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), British Medical Association, Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Royal College of Midwives among a number of others.
Writing to the Prime Minister, they said: “The evidence is clear and lives continue to be put at risk.”
They said the current UK Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) guidance, which determines the selection and use of PPE across the UK “does not accurately depict the airborne risks when sharing health and care settings including working in patients’ homes and public buildings”.
They added that current policies “continue to emphasise the importance of fomite, droplet and direct spread but do not properly address airborne transmission”.
They are calling for a speedy change in approach amid the risk of new variants, setting out five priorities including changing the IPC guidance “to reflect and increase the level of respiratory protection as a precautionary principle for all health and care workers” looking after people with or suspected to have Covid-19.
They are also asking for improved ventilation quality in all health and care settings and updated guidance reflecting the evidence on airborne transmission, taking into account a “truly multidisciplinary range of experts”.
The letter also asks for the collection and publication of consistent data on healthcare workers who have contracted the virus “from likely occupational exposure” in order to help identify settings where staff are most affected.
Finally they want all scientific evidence on airborne transmission in health and care settings to be published in an accessible form and research carried out “to fill any knowledge gaps”.
The letter, which is copied to the health ministers in all four nations of the UK, states: “We believe that given the rapid emergence and evolution of new variants of concern, a change in approach must be implemented at speed to protect patients and staff consistently across the UK.”
In response to a similar call in January, the Department of Health stated that guidance on the safest levels of PPE is written by experts and kept under constant review based on the latest evidence and data.
Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN general secretary, said: “Our members are telling us their concerns are not being listened to and they feel unprotected by current Government guidelines that seems to take a ‘one-size-fits-all, no evidence’ approach.
“Some nurses providing end-of-life care are working overnight in a patient’s home, with no ventilation, in close proximity to family members where the risk of coronavirus may be high given rates of infection in the community currently.
“The equipment they are provided with needs to match the risk they are facing and be available if required alongside fit testing and training on their use.”
Listen to the ITV News coronavirus podcast: