PPE, your questions answered

03 May 2020 By Lorraine Gray

​Personal Protective Equipment, or ‘PPE’, has been the focus of much media attention in recent weeks and we wanted to provide some supporting information to help the people who need it the most – the brave and caring healthcare professionals on the frontline. We consulted our Head of Clinical Performance, Lorraine Gray, who has spent over 30 years working as both a nurse and clinical director for the best advice to help you navigate these unprecedented times and the complex and confusing topic of PPE. We as an organisation will always advise you to follow Government guidelines for PPE.

PPE comes in many forms to suit many different scenarios. It usually consists of gloves, masks, eye protection, gowns, aprons, and many more garments that offer protection from exposure to viruses, bacteria and harmful substances. You should have received training in the correct way to wear and use PPE at some stage in your career. PPE has been one of the most important parts of fighting the Coronavirus by protecting healthcare workers from the virus in hot clinics as well as limiting the spread of it around the hospitals to other vulnerable patients.

How do I put on PPE?

Given the complexity of all the equipment and the current importance of it in protecting medical staff and patients, there can be some confusion over how it should be worn correctly. Fortunately, the government has provided in-depth documents and even created instructional videos for all healthcare professionals to consult. Each health care provider you provide care for should ensure that you are confident and competent in the procedure of “Donning and Doffing” PPE.

How can I make PPE more comfortable?

Given that during the outbreak of the Coronavirus many healthcare professionals have given their all and worked incredible hours to provide support and care to their patients, many have been wearing their PPE for extended periods of time during back to back shifts and extended hours. Whilst all PPE has been created to provide maximum protection of all airways, orifices and to reduce direct skin contact with the virus, extended periods of wearing it can lead to a lot of chafing and discomfort.

Some of the measures you can take to ensure your PPE equipment is as comfortable as possible include:

Moisturise the skin

Prior to donning the equipment and after doffing it, using a non-perfumed, moisturising product (like E45 Cream) can help keep your skin hydrated and less likely to crack and cause discomfort whilst wearing PPE. However, it is important not to use any product that is too lubricative like petroleum jelly as this could disturb the air-tight seal PPE requires to be effective.

Avoid using any padding or bandaging to alleviate chafing around the ears or under the eyes as this will also affect the seal between your skin and the equipment.

Watch out for cracks in the skin

Latex gloves contain talcum powder to reduce friction and to minimise sweat affecting movements or dexterity. However, it can also dry the skin on your hands, causing cracks or sores to appear which continued use of the gloves will make worse and can even hinder healing. The increased importance and frequency of washing your hands can also cause the skin to become very dry resulting in similar cracks and soreness.

Be sure to also moisturise your hands before and after using latex gloves or washing and pay special attention to any cracks that might appear. Please alert the provider you are working with if you have a latex allergy and be aware to remove your gloves carefully if you are asthmatic as the powder can be an irritant.

What do I do if I have concerns about PPE?

Everyone has the right to work safely and the increased risk to healthcare professionals brought on by the outbreak of COVID-19 means that PPE has never been more important. Without appropriate PPE, not only are healthcare professionals risking their lives treating patients who have tested positively for COVID-19, but they are also putting other patients at risk too. Whether you are directly employed or work as a locum you deserve, and your patients always deserve to be protected if you are concerned always raise the concern with the service manager.

Ahead of accepting a new agency nursing role, we will inform you of the current levels of PPE within the healthcare facility so you can make an informed decision before accepting a shift. If you have any concerns about the quality of the PPE you have access to, the Royal College of Nursing has provided resources to help you raise the issue with your on-assignment line or operational manager or will support you in getting adequate PPE. However, if you do have concerns, we can also foster discussions with the facility on your behalf. Your role, whether locum or permanent, is so important to all levels of society at the moment, let us take this one stressful part off your plate! We can help you quickly and efficiently get the equipment you deserve.

And, if you have any further questions about how to wear PPE, how you can make wearing it more comfortable, or how you can source locum or clinician work in primary or acute care with appropriate PPE - or even via remote telemedicine working shifts -- we would be happy to talk to you about it!

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