Labour tonight calls for better safety gear for NHS staff amid mounting fears over new coronavirus variants.
Mutations are thought to be up to 70% more infectious than the original Covid-19 strain, meaning frontline health workers are at even greater risk.
But only employees who face the biggest dangers are required to wear the toughest personal protective equipment.
FFP3 respirators or hoods are currently only required in areas where “aerosol generating procedures” are being carried out on a patient with a possible or confirmed case of Covid-19.
Otherwise, staff are advised to wear surgical face masks.
Labour said that nearly a year after the pandemic reached the UK, workers outside of coronavirus wards still do not have access to FFP3 masks and some are finding their PPE doesn’t fit properly – particularly women.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for an urgent review into PPE guidance, increased stockpiles of FFP3 masks for all employees, and a switch away from a “one size fits all” approach to PPE.
He said: “Our brave frontline NHS staff every day go the extra mile to care for desperately sick patients.
“But with the intense pressures and a new, dangerously more infectious strain, many are worried current PPE requirements aren’t adequate to keep them safe.
“With 52,000 staff off sick with Covid, the responsible thing for ministers now would be to rapidly address PPE guidelines to ensure staff are fully protected and rapidly complete the staff vaccination programme.”
More than 600 NHS and care workers have died from coronavirus since the crisis gripped Britain.
During the early weeks of the pandemic, health leaders repeatedly blasted failures to provide enough PPE for frontline heroes.
With fresh worries over the latest strain, they demanded new guarantees from the Government.
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said: “Nursing staff and all healthcare professionals need urgent reassurance from government ministers and scientists that they are sufficiently protected from the new variant both by PPE and safety procedures in their place of work.
“Without delay, they must state whether existing PPE guidance is adequate for the new variant.
“While more research is carried out, we ask for the precautionary principle to be applied and staff to be given a higher level of PPE if working with suspected or confirmed cases.
“The Government must initiate a review of the effectiveness of ventilation in health and care buildings too.”
British Medical Association council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “The Government can no longer continue to ignore growing calls to urgently review current PPE guidance for healthcare workers to protect them as they battle with rocketing infection rates and a highly transmissible variant of the virus.
“As well as urgently reviewing the PHE guidance to ensure that higher levels of protection are available to those on the frontline, it is also crucial that the appropriate PPE is given to healthcare workers to suit their individual needs.
“At a time when our health service is under unparalleled pressure and on the verge of being overwhelmed, having a healthy NHS workforce is absolutely fundamental to continuing the fight against this virus.
“Failure to act immediately on this will have a devastating impact, not only on the healthcare staff whose lives continued to be placed at risk, but on NHS’s ability to care for patients.
“The Government have continually praised the efforts of frontline staff throughout this pandemic but the most important thing they can do now is to ensure they are adequately protected so they can safely continue their lifesaving work.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The safety of NHS and social care staff has always been our highest priority and we continue to work round the clock to deliver PPE to protect those on the frontline.
“The PPE recommendations in the Infection Prevention and Control Guidance are agreed by an expert group of clinicians and scientists from across all four nations of the UK, based on the latest clinical evidence.”
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