Practices are now able to order FFP3 face masks via the Government’s PPE portal, the DHSC has confirmed.
Surgeries will first need to undertake a local risk assessment to determine if the high-grade masks are needed before placing an order via the PPE portal, it said.
Staff will also need to be fit tested prior to ordering to ensure the mask creates an adequate seal over the wearer’s face: a legal requirement for employers set out by Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Current Government infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance still recommends face coverings or surgical masks (Type II or IIR) to prevent the transmission of Covid in health and care settings’ for ‘all staff, patients and visitors’.
However, it also advises that it ‘may be necessary to consider the extended use of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) for patient care’ in situations where there is an ‘unacceptable risk of transmission’.
The risk assessment should include an evaluation of the setting’s ventilation, its operational capacity, and the prevalence of infection in the local area, and it should be informed by the hierarchy of controls, according to the UKHSA.
‘Where a risk assessment indicates it, RPE should be available to all relevant staff,’ it said.
It comes several weeks after the BMA began calling for the Government to fit GPs with RPE in light of the high transmissibility Omicron variant.
In a December bulletin, its GP Committee confirmed the DHSC had agreed it would arrange access to FFP3 masks.
And recent advice published by the union suggested GPs should wear FFP2 face masks ‘as default’ when consulting patients face to face.
However, NHS England this week told practice staff not to routinely use these respirators, stating that surgical face masks give ‘very good protection’.
In an NHS England webinar, GPs were told that they should only wear FFP2s if they have been risk assessed as needing a higher-grade FFP3 but this is unavailable.