The RCN is demanding that nursing staff be given higher grade PPE as a precaution against highly infectious strains of Covid-19.
It called for a review of infection control guidance and for all staff to receive the higher-grade PPE (known as FFP2/3 masks) routinely used in intensive care units.
Nurses were concerned the standard face mask might not be effective to protect against new strains of the virus and about possible airborne spread in healthcare settings, it said
In a letter to health minister Jo Churchill, RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair wrote: ‘We are very concerned that our members may now be at greater risk of infection as a result of their occupation.
‘They are aware that fluid repellent surgical face masks and face coverings, as currently advised in most general healthcare settings and patients’ homes, are not protective against smaller infective aerosols despite the government video outlining risks of infective aerosols in the air.’
The letter also warned that ‘nursing staff are putting their own lives, and the lives of their colleagues, families and patients at risk’ without adequate PPE.
Dame Donna said that the Government ‘must stop dragging its feet on this issue’, adding that ‘nursing staff need to have full confidence that they are protected’.
She continued: ‘Staff picking up this virus at work are angered at any suggestion they have stopped following the rules – this is down to the new variant and the dangerous shortage of adequate protection.’
Dame Donna also wrote a letter, co-signed by the British Medical Association, to the Health and Safety Executive – the national regulator for workplace health and safety – asking it to review the guidance on appropriate use of PPE in all health and care settings.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the new Covid-19 strain could be up to 70% more infectious than the original strain of the virus and that there is some evidence it could be more deadly.
Figures published yesterday revealed that the Covid-19 death rate among social care staff is two times higher than among the general population, while nurses have also suffered a ‘significantly higher’ death toll.