A medical staff member at QEQM Hospital says herself and colleagues were “put at unnecessary risk” because personal protective equipment (PPE) was not properly ‘fit tested.’
FFP3 face masks safety is dependent on wearers undergoing a ‘fit’ test, to ensure there is an adequate personal fit and seal to protect the wearer from fine aerosols containing virus particles.
Qualitative fit testing is a pass/fail test based on the wearer’s assessment of any leakage through the face seal region by detecting the introduction of bitter- or sweet- tasting aerosol as a test agent.
A fit test must be carried out prior to first wearing a new model of FFP3 mask and that must be done by a competent person under Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines.
But the staff member says appropriate fit tests have only been carried out in the last two to three weeks despite being months into the coronavirus pandemic.
They said: “Our staff are only in the last two/three weeks being fit tested for PPE masks. This means that some people may have been wearing inappropriate fitting masks that had little protection against covid-19.
“I am not aware as to whether this is the case for ITU staff but I think it might be. I attended a PPE fitting session in March and we were told that our chief executive had decided that we were not being fit tested as it was too difficult to fit us for all the different brands we might use.
“We questioned it then as it made us uncomfortable but were just told that was the decision. I know some theatre staff were there who agreed, and theatre staff have been working in ITU.
“Suddenly, about two weeks ago, there has been a major panic about getting all staff fit tested. Colleagues in other trusts are shocked and say they were fit tested three months ago. It has put us at risk.
“It affects all frontline staff, any staff doing face to face., hundreds of staff. It feels like we are being put at unnecessary risk, if the masks haven’t been fit tested then they may not be effective.
“You can’t tell if the mask is suitable by looking at it. I have one colleague who was fit tested and only one out of four types of masks fitted her. She wouldn’t have known that if she hadn’t been fit tested. They do this by using some solution that smells bad, if you smell it then the mask doesn’t fit.
“It’s scary. It’s not because the PPE isn’t available, but it’s not appropriate to wear equipment not fit for purpose. Other trusts did fit testing months ago so why hasn’t our trust? It’s too little too late, especially as we were one of the first trusts to lose a member of staff. Several staff members have been incredibly poorly in ITU. It puts the question whether these could potentially have been avoided.
“I feel undervalued, unsafe and not looked after. I am getting anxious about going to work.”
Raised with Royal College of Nursing
The Royal College of Nursing says members have reported that equipment to undertake fit testing is not available and, with multiple brands of masks supplied, this is placing additional pressures on an already overstretched workforce.
The RCN says this issue was raised with East Kent Hospitals Trust, which is responsible for QEQM, in April.
Patricia Marquis, RCN South East Regional Director, said: “We became aware in late April that East Kent Hospitals were finding it challenging to meet the requirement to Fit Test staff due to the national shortage of masks and fit testing solution.
“Because of this they were considering using fit checking (the wearer makes checks rather than going through the fit test process) as a substitute. We raised our concerns with the trust at that time and it was confirmed that fit testing would immediately resume. We shall be following up with the Trust further to understand more about this incident.
“It is essential that every member of staff working in a scenario that requires they wear a close fitting mask only wears one for which they have been fit tested. If this has not happened they will have been put at risk of catching the virus. If they are an RCN member we would urge them to contact us.
“Every employer is responsible for keeping their staff safe at work and providing the correct PPE where needed, to do this. We will support any member to escalate their concerns, including in the extreme, refusing to work because of inadequate PPE.”
A spokesperson for East Kent Hospitals said: “We have dedicated trainers who provide fit testing of masks for our staff on a regular basis. As with many parts of the country, the very high use of masks put pressure on the national supply and range of masks in use.
“This meant that we have at times carried out fit checking instead by trainers who physically check that staff are using the best type of mask to fit them. We now have a more steady supply of mask types, and the solution used in fit testing, so we are able to carry out fit testing.”
As of 9am yesterday May 20, 1,996,648 people have been tested for the virus, of which 248,293 tested positive.
As of 5pm on May 19, of those tested positive for coronavirus in the UK, 35,704 have died. This figure includes deaths in all settings, not just in hospitals.
In Thanet 601 people have tested positive and, up to May 8 but registered up to May 16, the isle has suffered 110 covid-related deaths.
The pandemic is now past the peak and daily case numbers are lowering.