Personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings during the COVID-19 outbreak

What is PPE?

PPE stands for personal protective equipment. PPE is any form of equipment designed to protect a person undertaking a task that may present a risk to their health. For fire officers, PPE is fire retardant suits and helmets or oxygen masks. For people doing DIY at home, PPE is often safety glasses or a dust mask.
In hospitals, medical teams often wear protective gowns, gloves, masks or visors to protect them from splashes, spills or contamination from bacteria and viruses. The PPE protects healthcare workers from diseases, but also ensures diseases are not carried from patient to patient.

What are the issues around PPE?

As with all new infections, health systems are learning all the time about the most effective way of protecting staff and patients. The advice on PPE has been updated, so, if you visit a healthcare setting and have a one-to-one interaction with a healthcare worker, they are likely to be wearing a surgical mask, gown and gloves. This is to protect both of you. The difficulty for patients and healthcare workers is that wearing PPE makes the interaction less personal, but hopefully we will all adapt to this.

In higher-risk settings, doctors and nurses are wearing more extensive PPE. You shouldn’t worry about the availability of this and the effects on your health. This more extensive use of PPE is mainly to do with protecting healthcare workers.

The rules on the use of face coverings in the UK

The term face covering is now being used to describe non-medical facemasks. The term usually refers to face coverings that are home made.

The rules differ between the home nations. In England face coverings are now compulsory on public transport, for hospital staff, outpatients to hospitals and visitors, and for visits to GPs. In Wales and Northern Ireland people are being asked to wear non-medical face coverings where social distancing is not possible - including public transport, but their use is not mandatory. In Scotland, it is compulsory to use face coverings on public transport. 

Useful links:

England: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/public-advised-to-cover-faces-in-enclosed-spaces

Scotland: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-phase-1-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others/pages/face-coverings/

Wales: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-52978392

Northern Ireland: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-regulations-guidance-and-what-they-mean-you

Please note:

Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning, performed with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

If you wear a face covering then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.

Please visit https://www.sfcdcp.org/communicable-disease/healthy-habits/how-to-put-on-and-remove-a-face-mask/ for how to put face covreing on, off and how to dispose of them properly.

The guidance above can change quickly.

This advice was written by the Chair of the PID UK Medical Panel and updated 22nd June 2020.