Exclusive GPs are turning down shifts at a Covid-19 assessment centre after the local health board ‘banned’ them from wearing higher-grade PPE in the form of FFP3 face masks.
Dr Lynn Duff, a GP in Lanarkshire, told Pulse that she and six other GP colleagues decided they will no longer volunteer at the hot hub based in Hamilton, for fear of their health.
A recent update to staff guidance from the local health board, dated 19 January, removed a previous option for GPs taking on patient-facing shifts at the centre to ‘bring their own PPE’ as long as it met minimum national standards.
Dr Duff, who attended a clinical reference meeting where the issue was discussed, claims the decision was made as it made nurses working at the centre feel ‘unsafe’.
Dr Duff told Pulse: ‘Towards the tail end of last year, some nursing staff were getting frustrated by the fact that GPs were feeling it necessary to wear FPP3 masks. Then they reported to their seniors that they felt unsafe in their surgical masks, so the board then raised this.
‘The decision was that GPs would no longer be entitled to bring their own, and they could only use surgical masks.’
She said the clinical director responsible for running the Covid hubs explained the reasoning during the meeting.
Dr Duff said: ‘We have always argued that everybody should be in FFP3. The only thing we can do is bring it for ourselves.
‘Rather than bringing up standards to what is more broadly understood as the acceptable and required level of PPE, they brought everybody down to the lowest common denominator.’
Dr Duff said many GPs went out and bought their own FFP3 masks after the Covid assessment centres were opened last year, and wore them during shifts – though some did use surgical face masks.
Current PHE PPE guidance for general practice states that FFP3 masks are only required for ‘aerosol generating procedures’, and a fluid-resistant surgical mask (FRSM) is advised for other direct patient care, including in Covid assessment centres.
However, the BMA has called for the guidance to be updated to require FFP3 face masks in Covid hot hubs.
In response to the GP claims, South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership told Pulse they wish staff at the hot hub – which they call the acute respiratory illness centre (ARIC) – to use the PPE provided, but did not offer an explanation as to why.
Associate medical director Dr Sharon Russell said: ‘We have plentiful supplies of appropriate PPE and we are asking those who work within the ARIC to use the nationally approved PPE provided.
‘The safety of our staff and patients is of paramount importance and we are more than happy to speak to any GPs who have any concerns regarding use of PPE being a barrier to working at the ARIC.’
Dr Duff added that the health board’s decision to ban this higher-grade PPE coincided with the more infectious new Covid variant, and that this ‘reinforced the fact that we wanted to be vaccinated but also to have our PPE’.
‘And even with vaccination, we still want our PPE, because it is not 100% effective,’ she said.
Last week, almost 20 healthcare bodies, including the BMA, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for stronger PPE guidance amid emerging scientific evidence around the transmission of Covid-19.
Researchers recently found that coughing generated at least 10 times more infectious aerosol emissions than breathing or speaking – and recommended FFP3 masks in Covid assessment centres and similar locations to reflect this.