GPs should wear FFP2 face masks ‘as default’ when consulting patients face to face, to protect against the highly-infectious Omicron Covid variant, the BMA has advised.
Because ‘Omicron is readily transmissible in air’ and ‘there is now enough evidence that there is community circulation’, GPs should act as though ‘everyone around you has it’ and wear FFP2 masks when consulting, LMCs distributing BMA GP Committee information said this week.
The notice, shared by Lancashire and Cumbria LMCs and Cleveland LMC, read: ‘In this case, and in the absence of readily available fit testing, there is a growing consensus to use non fit tested FFP2 masks as a default when seeing patients. A well-fitting FFP2 with a decent seal will provide better protection than a [fluid-resistant surgical mask]’.
GPC England has further ‘called on NHSEI to make available or reimburse associated costs for use of FFP2/3 masks and they have written to NHSEI asking for provision of FFP2 as a default for all practices’, it added.
It comes as the BMA informed GPs in December that they could now order FFP3 masks free of charge in special circumstances.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has agreed to ‘arrange access to FFP3s’, so long as it has been informed of a local risk assessment through which GP staff have ‘been assessed as needing FFP3’, it the GPC said.
The BMA had written to the Government to demand higher-grade PPE to protect GPs and their staff as the Omicron variant began to spread, with Pulse reporting that GPs were forced to buy their own higher grade PPE to protect staff.
According to the BMA, the DHSC ‘has subsequently confirmed’ that if ‘a local risk assessment has been undertaken and primary care providers have been assessed as needing FFP3, the DHSC’s PPE portal should be contacted with the result of the risk assessment and they will arrange access to FFP3s’.
It added: ‘Staff would need to be fit tested to FFP3s before the PPE portal can give access to the appropriate masks to which staff have been fitted.’
Current infection prevention and control (IPC) Government guidance still recommends ‘face coverings or surgical masks (Type II or IIR) to prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory infectious agents in health and care settings’ for ‘all staff, patients and visitors’.
But the guidance was updated on 21 December in response to Omicron and now advises: ‘Where an unacceptable risk of transmission remains following the hierarchy of controls risk assessment, it may be necessary to consider the use of [respiratory protective equipment] for patient care in specific situations when managing respiratory infectious agents.
‘The risk assessment should include evaluation of the ventilation in the area, operational capacity, and prevalence of infection/new SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern in the local area.’
It comes as the Government is considering extending its free personal protective equipment (PPE) scheme for GPs for a further 12 months after March 2022.
In November, the Government said PPE was the least effective in their hierarchy of measures in an update to IPC guidance.