A NURSING union has made a written request to a local hospital group to ensure a respirator face mask (FFP2) is provided to any nurse or health care worker who deems it essential for their own health and safety.
This coincides with new guidance from the national HSE concerning the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which has been the source of a dispute between the INMO and the UL Hospitals’ Group.
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 a safer standard of face mask following a recent memo.
However, this was 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 in the group has fallen from 602 to 441 over the last week.
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; those who are close contacts of positive cases and staff who are showing symptoms and who are staying off work in line with the public health guidance in respect of Covid-19.
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.
While evidence is divided internationally on whether FFP2 face masks should be worn, INMO Director of Industrial Relations, Mary Fogarty, said the national HSE has now advised they should be supplied to any staff member who feels they need it.
She said a lot of places in the Mid-West were providing these FFP2 masks, but there wasn’t clarity yet from the UL Hospitals’ Group.
She explained this mask is made to a higher quality that gives greater protection.
“In Germany and Austria people are being advised to wear these masks on public transport.”
Acknowledging that microbiologists were differing on the benefits of these masks, she said a microbiologist in the South West Group changed advice and noted health care workers in this group have been wearing them for some time with anecdotal evidence indicating a decrease in staff contracting the virus.
“The INMO are very concerned about the spread of the virus in hospitals, moving staff around wards, overcrowding, shortage of staff is contributing to the spread of Covid-19.”
The Clare Champion has obtained a copy of new advice issued on PPE and FFP2 masks issued by HSE chief clinical officer, Dr Colm Henry.
Dr Henry stated healthcare workers in community and hospital settings should have access to a well-fitted respirator mask (FFP2) and eye protection when in contact with possible or confirmed Covid-19 cases and Covid-19 contacts.
“A surgical mask and visor also offer a high degree of protection. These may be more comfortable for and preferred by some staff.
“In the context of a ward or facility based outbreak or a Covid-19 assessment hub it is appropriate to consider all patients in the setting as suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases.
“A surgical mask is appropriate for non-patient facing activity and when caring for patients where there is no suspicion of Covid-19 and there is no evidence of transmission in the service.”
“These may be more comfortable for and preferred by some staff. A surgical mask is appropriate for non-patient facing activity and when caring for patients where there is no suspicion of Covid-19 and there is no evidence of transmission in the service.
“A comprehensive approach to IPC is outlined in Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) guidance documents, which will continue to be reviewed on an ongoing basis in light of emerging evidence and experience nationally and internationally.”
The UL Hospitals’ Group stated staff in clinical areas who are caring for patients in the above categories are recommended to use these FFP2 masks.
“There has been no restriction to date on the use of FFP2 masks and they are are widely available for use in clinical areas and in particular Covid-19 outbreak areas in line with the guidance.
“The Infection Prevention Control (IPC) Team are advising all areas across the group regarding the use of these masks for these categories of patients.”