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New guidance extends use of face masks among healthcare workers

The move has been welcomed by the INMO.

Image: Shutterstock/sunfe

Updated Apr 22nd 2020, 1:35 PM

NEW GUIDANCE ISSUED to healthcare workers has advised staff to wear face masks within two metres of a patient. 

The move has been welcomed by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO). The union wrote to the HSE Chief Clinical Officer, Dr Colm Henry, at the start of the month to call for the “universal use” of surgical masks to protect healthcare staff. 

The guidance issued today and published on the Health Protection Surveillance Centre website now states that “surgical masks should be worn by healthcare workers when providing care to patients within 2m of a patient, regardless of the COVID-19 status of the patient”.

It continues: “Surgical masks should be worn by all healthcare workers for all encounters, of 15 minutes or more, with other healthcare workers in the workplace where a distance of 2m cannot be maintained.”

From surgical masks to high-quality respirators, masks are among the items facing considerable demand around the world as countries seek out supplies of PPE to cope with the Covid-19 outbreak.

Surgical masks and high-quality respirators are all disposable and cannot be re-used. 

The INMO said today the decision will mean that nearly all frontline healthcare workers will now wear face masks. 

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha called it “welcome news to frontline staff and patients”.

She said that it “should ease some anxiety and reduce transmission of the virus”.

“This should have been rolled out weeks ago, but we are glad to have finally secured this measure. It will not only benefit frontline healthcare workers, but will reduce the risk of transmission to patients,” Ní Sheaghdha said. 

“The next step must be ensuring sufficient supplies are available for all health workers, and continuous PPE training where needed,” she added. 

The union had told the HSE that other countries – including South Korea, Taiwan and China – had all reported that the “general wearing of masks was beneficial to containing the spread of Covid-19″. 

When asked about extending this guidance to all nursing homes, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said one of the issues that health officials will be looking at ahead of 5 May is the “role that masks might or might not play in more general settings”. 

The new advice does not apply to members of the public, only to healthcare workers. Advice on the HSE website for members of the public states that “wearing a face mask is unlikely to be of any benefit if you are not sick”.

A spokesperson for the HSE told TheJournal.ie that the change was based on a decision by the National Public Health Health Expert Team.

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“This guidance is for immediate implementation,” the spokesperson said. 

“Mask use is one part of a whole package of infection prevention and control precautions,” the spokesperson added. “The change regarding the use of surgical masks is in addition to and not as a replacement for any of the other infection prevention and control precautions.”

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