NURSES in the Mid-West could face disciplinary action if they decide to use a safer standard of face mask, a nursing union has claimed.
According to the INMO, frontline hospital staff in Limerick, Ennis, Nenagh, and Croom have been told they could face disciplinary action if they upgrade to using a safer standard of face mask.
However, this has been disputed by the UL Hospitals’ Group, who stated nothing in the memo restricts staff from wearing FFP2 face masks where appropriate and in line with national infection prevention and control guidelines.
It has also emerged the number of health care staff off on Covid-19-related leave increased to 602 on Wednesday last.
This figure is subject to change and may increase or decrease later in the week.
It includes staff who have tested positive for Covid-19 either through the workplace or community transmission, close contacts of positive cases and staff who are showing symptoms and are staying off work in line with the public health guidance.
A memo from UL Hospitals’ Group management requires that staff wear surgical face masks in “standard” settings, saying that “failure to comply may result in disciplinary procedure”.
Frontline INMO members have judged that the higher-standard FFP2 masks should be worn for their safety, as is the case in Cork hospitals, but claim they are being restricted from doing so.
The INMO has called on hospital management to withdraw the memo immediately and instead comply with a national HSE memo, which allows the use of upgraded Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) protections.
The union has referred the matter nationally to the Health and Safety Authority for urgent intervention.
Local INMO members have also sought an urgent meeting with management on critical care capacity problems in UHL, due to vacant positions.
INMO Assistant Director of Industrial Relations, Mary Fogarty, said their members are “outraged”.
“Nurses are doing the best they can to protect themselves and patients from the virus, but are being threatened with disciplinary action.
“These are trained, regulated professionals whose clinical judgement is to wear safer levels of PPE – especially given the more virulent strains of Covid-19 now circulating.
“Hospitals in Cork and across the country have brought in higher face mask standards to protect staff. UL Hospital Group management should do the same. At the very least, they should not be preventing frontline staff from staying safe.
“This threatening memo should be withdrawn immediately.”
The UL Hospitals’ Group confirmed that management issued a memorandum to staff on January 15th following a meeting of the Hospital Crisis Management Team.
This memo was issued in the interests of patient and staff safety to reduce hospital and community transmission.
“There is no reference in the memo to FFP2 masks. Nothing in the memo restricts staff from wearing FFP2 face masks where appropriate and in line with national infection protection and control guidelines.
“The use of PPE including masks across the group is in accordance with national HPSC guidelines, which have not been updated to recommend FFP2 masks for general use.
“FFP2 masks are widely available for use in clinical areas and in particular Covid-19 outbreak areas and there is no restriction on this.
“We acknowledge the anxiety currently being experienced by all staff and we will continue to encourage compliance with the national guidance to help protect patients and staff,” a group spokesman stated.