Doctors and nurses are being put at risk of catching Covid-19 because hospitals are abandoning vital checks to ensure their personal protective equipment (PPE) fits properly.
Growing numbers of hospitals are running so short of FFP3 face masks they are no longer insisting staff have a “fit-test” before they start wearing a mask while treating infected patients.
NHS trusts do not want to deplete their limited supplies of the disposable masks by using them up during what until now have been seen as routine and necessary checks to ensure the virus cannot get past the mask and into the wearer’s nose or mouth.
The fit-test is a rigorous process which ensures health workers wear the right size mask, which does not leak. The masks are sprayed with a chemical mist to see if staff can taste it.
However, trusts are instead telling staff to carry out what doctors fear is a crude and unreliable manual assessment, known as a “fit-check”, to see if masks have any gaps. This involves checking the seal by covering the filter, breathing in and seeing if the mask sucks in.
The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) says that hospitals which no longer do fit-tests are playing “Russian roulette with doctors’ lives” at a time when Covid-19 has already claimed the lives of at least 40 NHS doctors, nurses, paramedics, midwives and porters.
Samantha Batt-Rawden, DAUK’s president and an intensive care specialist, said: “This is a scandal which shows a flagrant disregard for the safety of frontline NHS staff. Many doctors will ‘fail’ a fit-test on certain brands of mask, which means it will not work for them.
“With mask brands and types regularly changing due to shortages, sometimes shift to shift, doctors are now going in blind, with no way of knowing whether a particular mask will give them any protection whatsover. It is simply unacceptable to play Russian roulette with doctors’ lives.
“This flagrant disregard for the safety of dedicated NHS staff must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”