Fears among healthcare workers in Northern Ireland that they may have to reuse PPE
FEARS have been raised that healthcare workers in Northern Ireland may be asked to reuse Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Staff have expressed concerns after Public Health England (PHE) changed its guidance to recommend workers reuse PPE during shortages "when it is safe to do so".
It said where there are acute shortages and it is safe to do so, it approves the sessional and reuse of PPE.
While the Department of Health said the guidance "is not implemented in Northern Ireland at this point", there are fears among healthcare workers that the changes could be applied.
Anne Speed from Unison said it was "extremely alarming guidance that has been developed by Public Health England".
"Unison wrote to the department of health on April 18 on behalf of all health unions indicating that we will not accept Northern Ireland adhering to this revised guidance," she said.
"We have been advised by the department that the guidance is not being implemented in Northern Ireland at this point, though we remain concerned that the department has not definitively ruled out issuing such guidance in future.
"The priority must be delivering the personal protective equipment that is required for all workers, not only in hospitals, but also in nursing homes and in the community."
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has also written to Stormont health minister Robin Swann to seek clarity over the issue.
Pat Cullen from the RCN said it's "not right.... it shouldn't have to happen".
PHE has said any clinician working in a hospital, primary care or community care setting within two metres of a suspected or confirmed coronavirus patient should wear an apron, gloves, surgical mask and eye protection, based on the risk.
"In some circumstances PPE, particularly masks and eye protection which is there to protect the health and care worker, can be worn for an entire session and doesn't need to be changed between patients, as long as it is safe to do so," it added.
Around 250,000 gowns have been transferred from Northern Ireland to England, on the basis that they will be resupplied once England's stocks arrive.
Ms Speed added: "The minister for health must publicly reassure all health and social care workers that this guidance will not be adopted for Northern Ireland in the future.
"There must be full engagement on any proposed future guidance. Unison will not accept decisions that affect our members being made over our heads."
A statement from Stormont's health department said: "This guidance on the re-use of PPE is not implemented in Northern Ireland at this point, and if or when it might be required the department will consider this taking account of the national and scientific evidence and will provide further advice at the appropriate time.
"Such consideration will be undertaken if required, and only following full engagement and in consultation with professional bodies and trade union representative organisations."