Failure to provide ambulance workers with the highest grade protective equipment is putting lives at risk, a London paramedic has told Socialist Worker.
Ambulance services across Britain are under incredible strain because of the growth in Covid-19 infections. But they are also being hit by large numbers of staff themselves being off work with the virus or self-isolating after contact with it.
Many ambulances are waiting outside hospitals for several hours to transfer their patients. This means workers are forced to spend extended times inside their vehicle, often with people who are very sick.
But paramedics and technicians are routinely only equipped with surgical masks or in some cases “FFP2” face masks, which are designed to offer only moderate protection.
Surgical masks do not completely seal the face, meaning that workers can breathe in air that has been circulating inside their ambulance. Though FFP2 masks are an improvement, they do not filter as many particles as the FFP3 mask that ambulance workers have been demanding.
“The higher grade FFP3 respirators we should be using are currently reserved only for procedures where there is a danger of infectious aerosol transmission,” the paramedic said.
“That might reflect Public Health England’s guidelines, but no one on the frontline thinks this is safe.
“We now have a more virulent virus. If you are in the back of your truck for several hours, in an unventilated space with someone who is likely very infectious, there is clearly a greater risk.
“The danger is not only to us as workers, but also to our patients. What if we’ve got the virus asymptomatically and are waiting with a non-Covid 19 patient in an ambulance for a long time?
“There’s a real danger that we might pass it on to them, and I find that really worrying.
“It long past time that this guidance is changed.”
The point has been taken up by the College of Paramedics in a letter to Tory health secretary Matt Hancock. It hopes that the department of health will see sense and both change the mask guidance and prioritise vaccinating ambulance workers.
Many health unions have since joined in with them.
But Hancock’s track record on protective equipment is at best shambolic—and at worst deadly.
Angry ambulance workers are piling pressure upon their managers and the top bosses of the service, demanding action.
Unions must be prepared to take action to ensure that their members stay safe while delivering the most vital of services.