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Wales Online
Mark Smith

Doctors and nurses criticise Welsh Government for not providing same level of PPE as England

NHS staff in Wales are being placed at an "unacceptable risk" of Covid infection due to lack of suitable PPE, doctors and nurses have warned.

The British Medical Association (BMA) in Wales claims that frontline workers are expected to "make do" with inadequate protection despite their pleas to the Welsh Government to improve access to certain types of masks.

In a joint letter with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Wales, the unions call on Health Minister Eluned Morgan to ask for FFP2 masks to be made available to all healthcare workers in primary and secondary care, and FFP3 masks for those treating Covid patients.

Read more: The Covid situation in hospitals across Wales right now

It follows updated updated infection prevention and control guidance published on January 17 for respiratory protective equipment (RPE) which changed to reflect further evidence that Covid-19 spreads through the air.

The BMA said that healthcare workers in England now have access to these masks via a portal, but in Wales there is "a reluctance" to issue this protection to staff.

"Two years into the pandemic, adequate PPE shouldn't be something healthcare workers have to concern themselves with but we are still calling for appropriate protection for those on the frontline," said BMA Cymru Wales in a statement.

"No-one should feel unsafe going to work. Adequate protection is vital. Without it, staff are placed at an unacceptable risk of infection and we cannot afford further staff absences.

"Despite progress in England where staff now have access to safe and effective PPE through a newly-announced national portal, staff in Wales are expected to make do with inadequate protection.

"There's light at the end of the Omicron tunnel in terms of case numbers coming down, but we know that the next few years will continue to be incredibly challenging for those working in the NHS.

"It is so important that staff - who continue to put themselves and their families lives at risk to care for others - feel that those that those running the health service recognise the sacrifices they have made over the last two years."

The BMA added that giving frontline clinicians proper protection will help reduce staff absence rates and improve morale which has taken a battering as the pandemic has worn on.

"Staff are exhausted from working above and beyond throughout the pandemic to keep the public safe. If we see doctors leaving the NHS through stress and burnout, the effect on our system will be detrimental - combined with the historical lack of workforce planning and the gaps which existed in the workforce long before Covid - it could be catastrophic," the BMA adds.

"It's clear that the coming weeks and months will continue to be difficult. We all still need to do everything we can to make sure cases stay low - wearing masks, distancing, especially in crowded or public places, and importantly getting vaccinated."

According to the BMA and RCN, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has already gone further than Welsh Government guidance and offered these masks to all frontline workers.

Welsh Conservative and Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said: "The shortages of PPE have been highlighted for months on end by medical groups, but whenever they or we bring it up with ministers, they give us the brush-off.

"That problems with PPE provision is still ongoing nearly two years into the pandemic, shows a particular kind of negligence on the Labour government's part, so I am not surprised the BMA have passed this motion.

"Six months ago, the BMA were saying that inadequate PPE was leading to staff shortages in the NHS, with consequences for emergency care. Two months later, NHS Wales recorded the worst A&E waits, slowest ambulance response times, and longest treatment waiting list on record.

"Therefore, the question must be asked: did the Welsh NHS and all its patients experience its hardest months on record because the Labour government ignored advice and warnings from medical experts?"

In response a Welsh Government spokeswoman said: "We have clear guidance for staff who come into direct contact with patients or service users and this is constantly reviewed. In line with UK infection prevention and control guidance, FFP3 masks are supplied to all NHS staff engaged in aerosol-generating procedures and in other circumstances where a local risk assessment suggests a continuing risk of infection transmission despite other protective measures being in place.

"Ensuring all health and social care workers have the correct PPE is an absolute priority and since the start of the pandemic more than 1.2 billion items of PPE have been issued across health and social care. We will continue to follow national guidance, which takes into account emerging evidence in its advice to us."

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