Are the frontline healthcare staff being protected from COVID-19?

One of the most worrying statistics emerging from the Covid-19 crisis is that up to 24% of those infected are healthcare workers.

We cannot pretend that this figure comes as a surprise.

Since the commencement of this crisis in January 2020, our healthcare workers have made relentless and heroic efforts to care for the sick whilst preparing our already overstretched healthcare system for the inevitable influx of patients. Our healthcare workers have made these efforts whilst exposing themselves, and their families, to the ever-increasing probability of contracting Covid-19, dangerous in its combination of both infectiousness and lethality.

Our dismay increases, as the stories from the frontline emerge; healthcare workers requested to recycle and reuse face masks, others told that it is not necessary to wear additional (Personal Protective Equipment) PPE whilst treating a patient who is not Covid-19 symptomatic and, more recently, photographs of healthcare workers with welts on their faces from wearing the supplied PPE for long hours.

We are failing our frontline workers.  This is not good enough.

It is crucial that PPE provided to frontline healthcare workers is of an appropriate standard.  It is the law.

An employee is entitled to a safe and healthy place of work under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.  For healthcare staff, a compulsory biological agents risk assessment must be performed for high risk workplaces such as hospitals and nursing homes.  An employee must be provided with protective clothing and equipment where such assessment deems it necessary.

The degree of exposure and the risk of contracting Covid-19 is far greater for our front-line healthcare staff.  Those who contract the virus and recover may suffer long term side effects including decreased lung function and shortness of breath.  Such conditions do not just affect a person’s health in the short-term but also the quality of their life and their earning capacity where their job requires consistent physical exertion.

With no end in sight, our healthcare staff continue to risk their own health and their family’s health whilst caring for others daily.  The very least that we can do is provide the mandatory PPE of an appropriate standard to mitigate their risk of contracting Covid-19.

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