Concerns have been raised over the current guidance after a new, more virulent, strain of COVID-19 was identified.
Public Health England (PHE) has said it has no plans to change the current guidance on personal protective equipment (PPE) despite increasing pressure from healthcare unions.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the British Medical Association (BMA) have both raised concerns over the current guidance and called for a “higher level PPE” after a new, more virulent, strain of COVID-19 was identified earlier this month.
The vast majority of healthcare staff working inside hospitals with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 are currently wearing nothing more than a standard surgical face mask, gloves and a thin plastic apron.
FF3 masks or respirators, long-armed gowns and face shields are currently reserved for intensive care staff and those undertaking aerosol generating procedures (AGPs).
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says the current guidance is “based on the latest evidence”.
At least 650 health and social care workers are known to have died from the virus.
CN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “Nursing staff and all health care professionals need urgent reassurance from government ministers and scientists that they are sufficiently protected from the new variant both by PPE and safety procedures in their place of work.
“Without delay, they must state whether existing PPE guidance is adequate for the new variant. While more research is carried out, we ask for the precautionary principle to be applied and staff to be given a higher level of PPE if working with suspected or confirmed cases. The government must initiate a review of the effectiveness of ventilation in health and care buildings too.
“We put these concerns in writing before Christmas and nursing staff still need the answers to deal with the current pressures with confidence.”
The RCN and BMA have now been joined by healthcare workers from Nurses United and NHS Workers Say No, who have written to the government about the same issue.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at PHE, said: “NHS staff are under immense pressures and their safety has always been our highest priority.
“The NHS Infection Prevention Control group has reviewed the latest evidence and has advised that PPE should continue to be worn as laid out in the current IPC guidance, with FFP3 masks (a type of respirator mask) required for staff undertaking clinical aerosol generating procedures.
“This is supported by the World Health Organisation.
“Emerging evidence and data on variant strains and transmission will be continually monitored and reviewed.”
A DHSC spokesman said: “Guidance on the safest levels and standards of PPE is written by experts and agreed by all four UK Chief Medical Officers.
“Our guidance is kept under constant review based on the latest evidence.”