Vaughan Gething AM, Minister for Health and Social Services
Right across Wales, frontline NHS and social care staff are working hard – in often difficult circumstances – to provide high-quality care for people with coronavirus. It is my priority to make sure they can do their jobs safely and with confidence.
I know many healthcare and social care staff have expressed concerns about whether they have had access to the right personal protective equipment (PPE) to do their job.
Over the last few weeks, we have distributed more than 5m items of PPE from our pandemic stocks – over and above the normal supplies held by the NHS – to ensure staff have the protective equipment they need. Supplies have been distributed to hospitals, GP surgeries, pharmacies and to all local authorities to be sent to social care settings throughout Wales.
Last week, a rapid review of the PPE guidance in the UK was carried out by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Public Health England. The Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Wales was involved in this review. Today, new guidance, which applies across the UK, has been published.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had endorsed the UK approach to PPE. This new guidance goes beyond what is required by WHO and provides extra reassurance to frontline staff, recognising their concerns and fears.
Key changes to the guidance include:
- all health and social care staff within 2m of a suspected or confirmed coronavirus patient should wear an apron, gloves, fluid repellent surgical mask and eye protection
- some PPE (masks, visors and gowns) which are currently classed as “single use” will be classed as “sessional use” in some situations
- the use of gowns will be extended, particularly when aerosol-generating procedures are taking place
Extending the guidance presents additional challenges in meeting the greater demand for PPE. All UK countries are working on a four-nation approach to make sure we can increase the supply of PPE. But, even with these new arrangements, it may take some time before we have a reliable supply chain for all the equipment needed.
It is important to note the guidance still only recommends PPE for health and social care workers – other sectors, such as refuse collectors, retail workers and teachers, are classed as low or no-risk. This means that following the hygiene and social distancing measures continues to offer adequate protection for those groups.
It is also important that the guidelines are followed properly and that PPE is used in accordance with the new guidance. For every piece of PPE kit used unnecessarily, a piece of kit will be unavailable to frontline staff caring for a patient or vulnerable person.
The Welsh Government is working with the rest of the UK to secure supplies of PPE, including a made-in-Wales supply.
Together, we will continue to protect frontline staff.