I am concerned about the airborne spread of Covid in our work environment, especially now it is clear that the new Omicron variant is very easily transmitted through the air.
I would like to make you aware of the new updated guidance from the UK Health Security Agency, released on 21st December 2021.
My interpretation of the guidance is that employers should make a full assessment of ventilation and air filtration in every clinical area. If adequate air quality cannot be assured, or for those who can’t keep 2m distance for patients, then PPE of a grade appropriate for airborne hazards should be provided. Local prevalence of respiratory pathogens must be taken into account within risk assessments. Currently there is a high risk that any patient or member of the public could be carrying Covid, regardless of their presenting symptoms, so airborne mitigation measures would be appropriate in all indoor spaces where patients or staff mix.
This would be consistent with the evidence that FFP3 masks reduce Covid infection in health care workers.
And with the evidence that air filters in clinical areas reduce airborne viral load.
These interventions are immediately necessary in order to fulfil legal obligations under HSE Health and Safety at Work legislation.
Financially, although some cost may be incurred in order to make these interventions, this would be more than compensated for by the savings in sick pay for staff infected at work and needing to self-isolate.
As we know, Covid is most infective just before, and around the time that symptoms develop. Daily lateral flow testing reduces the risk of someone unknowingly carrying Covid, but has a significant false-negative rate. By protecting our staff from infection, we will also be adding an extra layer of protection for patients, preventing them for getting hospital-acquired Covid.
Although not covered by this guidance, acting to reduce airborne viral load, and offering those patients who are able to wear them the option of more protective masks, would also reduce the risk to patients of hospital-acquired infection.
I would be grateful if you could implement the new guidance and evidence urgently to protect all staff and help us continue to provide excellent patient care in safety.