All nurses and healthcare staff treating patients with a ‘suspected or confirmed’ Covid infection must wear an FFP3 mask, updated guidance has said.
However, this is in direct contrast with NHS England advice last week that general practice staff should not routinely use FFP2 or FFP3 respirators because surgical face masks give ‘very good protection’.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said last Monday that the infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance had been updated to ‘clarify’ the ‘wording’ around respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
UKHSA and NHS England jointly manage the IPC guidance, along with Public Health Wales and the Northern Ireland Public Health Agency.
The updated guidance said: ‘A respirator with an assigned protection factor (APF) 20, that is, an FFP3 respirator (or equivalent), must be worn by staff when… caring for patients with a suspected or confirmed infection spread by the airborne route (during the infectious period).’
It must also be used when performing aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) on the same cohort of patients, it added.
Follow IPC guidance, says NHS England
An NHS England spokesperson told Nursing in Practice sister publication Pulse on background that it is not giving separate guidance to primary care and that its advice is to follow the IPC guidance.
But NHS England said in a webinar last week that general practice staff should only wear FFP2s if they have been risk assessed as needing a higher-grade FFP3 but this is unavailable.
A representative from the national infection prevention and control team told Pulse that practice staff should only use FFP3 face masks if a risk assessment deems there to be an ‘unacceptable risk’ of transmission, or they are carrying out an AGP.
The ‘majority’ of healthcare workers should wear a ‘Type II surgical face mask for all patient contact’, which give ‘very good protection’, they said.
It also followed BMA advice last month that practice staff should wear FFP2 face masks ‘as default’ when consulting patients face to face to protect against the highly-infectious Omicron Covid variant.
Pulse also approached UKHSA for comment, but was redirected to NHS England’s IPC cell.
Additional reporting by Caitlin Tilley.