As new variants of COVID-19 continue to emerge, nurses are calling for a higher grade of PPE. Being on the front-line, the Royal College of Nursing is warning the current inadequate PPE might be putting the lives of many nurses at risk. 

Writing to the Workplace Safety Watchdog, the RCN has detailed its concerns – which comes off the back of a similar appeal from General Practitioners across the UK.


Response from the Department of Health

Despite the letters of appeal from doctors and nurses on the front-line, the Department of Health have said there is ‘no reason to change current guidance’.

A comprehensive review of all evidence around the new variants and current PPE was recently completed. This outlined current methods of protective equipment are adequate.

As it stands, nurses working outside intensive care units are required to wear standard surgical masks. However, the RCN have stated they may not protect against the small airborne particles quickly spreading. As the new variant transmits easier and quicker than previous versions of COVID-19, nurses are calling for NHS staff to be given higher-grade face masks – similar to those used within intensive care units.


Unequal levels of protection

Some hospitals have begun offering their staff high-grade PPE, while many are not. This is quickly leading to unequal levels of protection.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the RCN, said: “The government’s silence on this issue is creating a postcode lottery for nursing staff.

“It must stop dragging its feet on this issue. Nursing staff need to have full confidence that they are protected.”

Recent NHS England data has down a 22% rise in the number of healthcare staff becoming sick with COVID-19 symptoms. This is compared with the last week of December. A strong indication, then, the new variant is spreading much quicker and effecting more people.

The Royal College of Nursing is asking the governments of the UK to:

  • assure health and care staff that the current guidance on PPE is robust enough to protect them
  • ensure that nursing staff are supported to use respiratory personal protective equipment (PPE) such as FFP2 or FFP3 masks
  • look at the effectiveness of ventilation in all NHS buildings


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