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Covid guidelines ‘fundamentally flawed’ and put lives at risk, says nurses’ union

THE government’s Covid-19 guidelines for infection control and personal protective equipment (PPE) for patients and NHS staff are “flawed and need replacing,”according to a study commissioned by the Royal College of Nursing.

Experts at London University analysed a literature review underpinning the guidelines, and found that they met just four of 18 criteria they deemed “essential.”

Crucially, they say the guidelines fail to consider airborne infection, a key way in which the virus is transmitted and about which much new evidence has emerged.

The experts’ conclusion, published today, is that the review provided only a “superficial account” of the available evidence, and so the guidelines were “fundamentally flawed and need replacing.”

The union says that at least 988 UK health and social care workers had died in the pandemic by January and believes that failure to update the guidelines puts more lives at risk.

The report’s authors, Nursing Professor Dinah Gould and Dr Edward Purssell, pointed out that the guidelines identify droplet spread and hands as the major routes to infection, based on early advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Updated evidence indicates that aerosol spread is much more significant and the original advice from the WHO has been superseded,” they said.

The guidelines omit detail on the importance of ventilation and say that higher-grade personal protective equipment must only be provided in certain high-risk settings such as intensive care, but that it is up to individual health trusts to decide whether or not to provide them more widely.

The RCN says that this has caused “huge concern,” especially with the emergence of highly infectious new Covid-19 variants. It recommends that higher-grade PPE is issued to all staff pending further review.

One community nurse said: “I’m at my wits’ end. I’ve had Covid-19 before and really don’t want to get it again.

“I’ve got FFP3 face masks but my trust won’t let me wear them. They say either wear the standard surgical mask or you can’t work. I don’t want to leave nursing – I love my job – but I don’t want to catch Covid-19 either.”

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “The report and its findings must prompt an official review and not be swept under the carpet as an inconvenience. 

“It is inadequate to say ‘they have masks’ if they aren’t fit for purpose. Staff are scared for themselves and their families and, left any longer, it’ll turn to anger.”

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