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Female doctors given masks made for men, says BMA

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The British Medical Association says it has received sustained reports from female doctors ‘struggling to find respirator masks that pass fit testing’, compromising their safety from coronavirus.


In a letter to public health minister, Jo Churchill, BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul says:

“We have raised concerns in the past that PPE is designed to fit men, even though 75% of the NHS workforce are women.”

“I am sure you will understand that these concerns have only been heightened by the identification of the new COVID-19 variant and the recent, alarming increases in transmission.”

Women have reported the masks also leave them with sores and ulcers after long shifts.

A woman wearing an FFP3 face mask. Photograph: iStock

The BMA's concerns come as the Royal College of Nursing asks for urgent reassurance from government about protection from the new variant, which has been reported to be up to 70% more infectious.

On 5 January, RCN 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 RCN also wants the government to carry out a review of the effectiveness of ventilation in health and care buildings.

In a second letter to Public Health England, Mr Nagpaul says that FFP3 masks – which protect against respiratory pathogens – should be made more widely available. “Now that we have been assured that supply is no longer an issue, we believe guidance should be updated to take a more precautionary approach to better protect those working on the frontline.”

“If healthcare workers fall ill from being infected and are unable to work, it will be devastating for the health service at this time of critical pressures, and it will compound the pressures besieging hospitals and GP practices.”

HSE says 223 deaths and 11,710 cases have been reported to it under RIDDOR in a nine-month period last year from 10 April to 12 December. Two thirds of these deaths were reported among healthcare workers including hospital and care home workers.  

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