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Demand for FFP2 masks for healthcare workers surged in January prompting the opening of “additional supply lines to ensure continuity”, a meeting of the HSE’s national crisis management team (NCMT) heard. On 12 January, the HSE’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry advised that due to the major rise of Covid-19 cases and “concern about increased potential for airborne transmission”, it was “appropriate to allow greater scope” for institutional and individual risk assessments with respect to wider use of respirator masks.
Dr Henry’s advisory followed pressure from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation for greater deployment of respirator masks, which were only recommended by the HSE for specific aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) in line with World Health Organisation guidance. A meeting of the NCMT on 29 January heard that demand for FFP2 masks had substantially increased.
“Previously issued 130,000 units/week, now issuing in excess of one million units/week. 6.5 million units in stock. Additional supply being received. Opening additional supply lines to ensure continuity of supply,” outlined the minutes. Mr Sean Bresnan, HSE National Director of Procurement, told the meeting that funding and sanction was required for FFP2 masks’ expenditure, due to the scale of orders, with a letter to be submitted to the HSE board and Department of Health.
HSE Clinical Lead on Infection Control Prof Martin Cormican advised that the guidelines for mask use were being reviewed to align with that of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). From the beginning of the pandemic, the ECDC had recommended respiratory masks when caring for suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients, with surgical masks acceptable only where there were shortages of respirator masks.
According to HSE guidance dated February 2021, healthcare workers “should have access” to a well-fitted FFP2 and eye protection when in contact with possible or confirmed Covid-19 cases and contacts.
“In the context of a ward/unit-based outbreak it is appropriate to consider all patients in that setting as suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases while active transmission is ongoing. Decisions regarding when all patients should be considered as suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases requiring general use of FFP2 masks should be made by the IPC team and outbreak control team.”
In the UK, respirator masks were also recommended only for AGPs. However, a review in March 2021 by the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies, concluded it may be necessary to consider extended use of respiratory protective equipment (such as FFP3 masks) for patient care in specific situations.