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Nurses without appropriate PPE can refuse to treat, says RCN

Nurses without appropriate personal protective equipment, who have ‘exhausted all other measures’, can refuse to treat patients, the Royal College of Nursing has advised.

The RCN has urged nurses without adequate PPE to consider delaying treatment, using alternative practices and refusing to work if ‘escalation steps’, such as consulting a line manager and documenting concerns, do not resolve the situation.  

It wrote in guidance published last week: ‘Ultimately, if you have exhausted all other measures to reduce the risk and you have not been given appropriate PPE in line with the UK Infection Prevention and Control guidance, you are entitled to refuse to work. 

‘This will be a last resort and the RCN recognises what a difficult step this would be for nursing staff,’ it added.  

It said that nurses, who decide not to treat, could face legal consequences including an inquest and clinical negligence claims. If so, the RCN will provide legal representation and other support.  

However, the guidance suggested that concerned nurses should first identify changes to the way they work ‘short of refusing to provide treatment’.  

This could include delaying treatment or providing it differently, using alternative practices that reduce the risk of transmission and placing staff with greater vulnerability into roles that carry lower risk.  

Nurses are entitled to refuse to work as a ‘last resort’ and if all other measures have been exhausted, it added.  

The college continued: ‘When considering the weight to be placed on your own safety, you are not simply taking your personal wellbeing into account.  

‘If you become unwell, you might spread infection through your community, including to high-risk patients,’ it added. 

The guidance comes after community and social care nurses raised concerns around inadequate PPE. Meanwhile, health and care staff have resorted to PPE donations because of supply problems.  

Visit the RCN website or phone 0345 772 6100 for advice.