Personal protective equipment (PPE) – guidance, resources and FAQs

Find out what you need to do to remain safe while treating patients with Covid-19, and your rights and responsibilities.

Please also see the Protecting yourself section of the workplace and employment FAQs and the pregnancy and vulnerable workers FAQs.

National Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Guidance

The National IPC 'Covid-19: infection prevention and control guidance' was updated on 1 June 2021. It recommends the use of triage to stratify patients into low-, medium- and high-risk categories for Covid-19, and your choice of PPE is related to these categories. After much discussion with PHE and our insurance broker, we can now advise that for the medium risk pathway the eye protection can be risk assessed.

The updated National IPC guidance recommends that services continue to utilise remote consultations rather than face-to-face where possible and clinically appropriate. For more information, see our flowchart for deciding if a face-to-face consultation is appropriate.

Update

The UK government announcement on 6 July 2021 signals an end to lockdown measures and the mandated use of face masks as of 19 July (in England). Physiotherapists and patients in all sectors need to be aware of what this will or will not mean in practice.

The use of masks and other PPE guidance for all healthcare settings across the UK has not changed. This means that a healthcare practitioner will still use the most appropriate PPE for their environment. Patients may be asked to continue to wear masks and sanitise hands.

We will of course update our guidance if and when further changes are announced.

(8 July 2021)

Resources to support your PPE decision-making

  1. UK Government guidance on Covid-19 PPE

  2. Government and CSP guidance on Aerosol Generating Procedures (AGPs)

  3. Face masks and coverings for NHS Hospital Trusts and Private Hospital providers

  4. Government guidance for PPE in social care settings

Frequently asked questions

What are my obligations around patients who are exempt from wearing a face mask?

Who is exempt from wearing a face mask?

This varies from country to country, however there are exceptions for children, those with a mental illness or anxiety or where a face covering may cause distress. An explanation of the regulations in force where you live can be found at:

Do I need to see evidence that a patient is exempt from wearing a face mask?

No. Patients are under no obligation to explain why they are exempt from wearing a face covering. This approach applies both to the relevant coronavirus rules and restrictions related to face coverings as well as a duty on providers of goods and services to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. (Please note the Equality Act 2010 applies to England, Scotland and Wales; other jurisdictions may have similar provisions, and are outside the scope of this document).

The duty to make reasonable adjustments relates to patients that may be covered under the Equality Act 2010. These are individuals with a protected characteristic.

Further information on protected characteristics can be found here:

Protected characteristics | Equality and Human Rights Commission (equalityhumanrights.com)

Can I refuse to see a patient because they are exempt from wearing a face mask?

No, however you may determine that the patient’s needs are best met by a virtual consultation rather than a direct face-to-face appointment.  

Providing you are wearing the required level of PPE for your setting, there is no requirement to insist any patient wears a face mask as well, although many patients may voluntarily choose to wear one, or agree your request.

Remember that protected characteristics are not always visible, a patient is under no obligation to share this information with you, and that discrimination does not need to have been intentional to be unlawful.

You can refuse to treat a patient for other reasons, such as competency to treat a certain condition or an inability for the patient to access the service while needing a hands on treatment, but if you believe the patient has ongoing health needs that you cannot meet, you should advise the patient where they can access services.

What can I do to minimise the risk of discrimination?

Screening and risk assessment is key for all patients prior to deciding whether to treat them remotely or face-to-face.

Asking in a neutral manner whether a patient is exempt from wearing a face covering early should assist in this process ie a yes/no response without asking why.

A flat refusal to treat based on a patient stating they are exempt from wearing a face covering runs the risk of being potential discrimination should a patient have a protected characteristic.

Can I treat everybody the same and say “No mask, no treatment”

No. For any patient that holds a protected characteristic and is exempt from wearing a face covering, this could potentially be discriminatory and leaves you open to a complaint.

I have received a letter claiming discrimination – what should I do?

If you are employed, raise this with your employer immediately. Your employer may decide to seek an independent legal opinion prior to responding to any communication.

It is worth noting that an employer may be held responsible for any discrimination an employee commits. This is known as “vicarious liability”.

If you are self-employed, and/or are a limited company or partnership  covered by the terms and conditions of the CSP PLI scheme, you must make a PLI notification immediately https://www.csp.org.uk/professional-clinical/professional-guidance/insurance/csp-pli-scheme If your PLI cover is with another insurer you should contact them for advice.

You may also wish to seek an independent legal opinion prior to responding to any communication.

A template letter has been made freely available by Disability Rights UK for patients that feel they have been discriminated against, and it is this template that we are seeing used to communicate with members. The template can be accessed here:

Face_masks_discrimination_template_letter.pdf (disabilityrights.org.uk)

Where do my obligations to maintain HCPC standards fit in?

Ethical framework, standard 6 – Identify and manage risk

  • 6.1 You must take all reasonable steps to reduce the risk of harm to service users, carers and colleagues as far as possible.
  • 6.2 You must not do anything or allow someone else to do anything that could put the health or safety of a service user, carer or colleague at unacceptable risk.

Proficiency for physiotherapists, standard 15 – Understand the need to establish and maintain a safe environment.

  • 15.1 Understand the need to maintain the safety of both service users and those involved in their care.
  • 15.3 Be aware of applicable health and safety legislation, and any relevant safety policies and procedures in force at the workplace, such as incident reporting and be able to act in accordance with these.
  • 15.4 Be able to work safely including being able to select appropriate hazard control and risk management, reduction or elimination techniques in a safe manner and in accordance with health and safety legislation.
  • 15.6 Be able to establish safe environments for practice that minimise risk to service users, those treating them, and others, including the use of hazard control and particularly infection control.

The HCPC standards mentioned above should inform your reasoning when taken in conjunction with your screening and risk assessment, prior to deciding how best to offer treatment based on your patient’s clinical need.

(last reviewed: 8 March 2021)


What PPE should I use when treating patients?

Firstly, you should consider whether a direct physiotherapy intervention is appropriate. Also consider the setting you are working in, the purpose of treatment, and how close you need to be to your patient.

You will need to follow the PHE guidance and decide which pathway (low, medium or high) your patient falls within.  

Most physiotherapy out patients will be in the medium-risk pathway as most will not have had a test within the last 72 hours. In such cases you will require gloves, a mask, and an apron. We have now had confirmation from PHE that the use eye protection in the medium-risk pathway can be risk assessed.

Always wash your hands before and after seeing your patient, regardless of whether you come into contact with them or not.

Resources to support your PPE decision-making

  1. UK Government guidance on Covid-19 PPE

  2. Scottish addendum on PPE

  3. Government and CSP guidance on Aerosol Generating Procedures (AGPs)


Should I be wearing enhanced PPE due to the new variant of Covid-19? 

The CSP has sought clarity on this issue from Public Health England and has received this response which will shortly be published as an update to the IPC guidance.

A peer review has been undertaken by an expert group of clinicians to assess the new variant strains (SARS-CoV-2 VOC-202012/01 and UK VOC122020/02). The evidence review has not identified a change in the mode of transmission between the variants and previous circulating strains of Covid-19, and therefore a consensus agreed that there are no changes to the recommendations set out in the IPC guidance at this stage.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has also advised that there is currently no evidence of any association between the new variant and increases in transmission in particular settings and that there is no evidence for differences in routes of transmission or different survival on surfaces.

PPE should continue to be worn as per current IPC guidance, with FFP3s to continue to be worn for AGPs. This position is being kept under close review. COVID-19 measures in the workplace should be robustly implemented and adhered to, including reinforcing physical distancing, optimising ventilation, greater patient mask use and enhanced decontamination/cleaning (especially frequently touched surfaces). Local assurance should be obtained for optimised compliance with IPC measures.

Emerging evidence and data on variant strains will be continually monitored and reviewed, and the guidance amended accordingly if needed.

(Last updated: 13 Jan 2021)


 

In the guidance updated on 21 January, can I class my clinic patients as a cohort?

Yes we have spoken to PHE and where all clients/patients being cared for/treated are assessed as falling within the same pathway e.g. medium-risk pathway PPE will apply as per Table 9.2 for that cohort of patients/clients and sessional use of face masks is permitted.

(Last updated: 4 Feb 2021)


If I am treating a low-risk patient with an AGP, what PPE do I wear?

The current PHE guidelines are that patients who have had a negative test within the past 72 hours and are asymptomatic are considered to be on the low-risk pathway. If you are carrying out an AGP on such patients, you do not require a FFP3 mask. You should wear an FRSM, disposable gloves and apron, and risk assess for a visor.

(last reviewed: 5 Oct 2020)


I am confused about which pathway my patient is on when I read the new PHE IPC guidance. Can you advise?

Following the publication of the updated IPC guidance on 21 August, there has been some confusion about which pathway we should follow for physiotherapy outpatient treatments. The three pathways described in the main body of the document; high, medium and low risk, clearly describe each but appear to be contradicted by the triage tool in appendix 1.

We have sought clarity on this from PHE who have advised that the triage tool should be completed and if ‘No’ is the answer to all of the questions, the practitioner is directed to the low-risk pathway definition to assess whether these criteria are also met. If not, they move to the medium-risk pathway.

As the vast majority of our patients seeking outpatient treatment will not have had a negative test within the last 72 hours, we believe most of our patients fall in the medium-risk pathway.

(last reviewed: 18 Feb 2021)


What do I do if my organisation refuses to provide me with appropriate PPE?

  • Raise this with your line manager, head of department and/or infection control department highlighting the CSP guidance and position statement.
  • Contact your local CSP representative for support and intervention.
  • Your local rep can seek further advice and support from a CSP senior negotiating officer if it is required.
  • If you do not have a local rep, contact the CSP to gain advice from the senior negotiating officer for your region.

If physiotherapy staff still cannot obtain the correct PPE for the service they provide, then they can decline to offer this service until their employer provides the appropriate equipment.

(last reviewed: 5 Oct 2020)


We are running low on PPE. Is there any government advice on what to do?

The public health bodies have put out guidance based on the World Health Organisation advice on what to do when there is an extreme shortage of PPE.

Ideally, any potential options will have been agreed locally between unions and the employer.

This will support members to be protected when undertaking their treatment sessions by completing a dynamic risk assessment. 

(last reviewed: 5 Oct 2020)


Should I be fit tested for a mask before treating Covid-19 patients?

Yes. You should be fit tested for an FFP3 mask before seeing high-risk patients.

Once you have been fit tested, then you should carry out a fit check every time you use a mask. Should the model of FFP3 mask you are using change, then a new fit test will be required.

If you were fit tested within the past two years, this will count as having been fit tested unless the shape of your face has changed over this time, in which case you should request to be fit tested again.

We advise that if your employer fails to fit test you as set out in the criteria listed above, you should record this on their incident reporting system – for example, Datix.  

Always ensure best practice with hand hygiene before and after patient contact, and also before entering and exiting any clinical area.

(last reviewed: 5 Oct 2020)

What should I do if I cannot get a good fit with an FFP3 face mask and I am due to be on call?

The NHS Staff Council statement suggests that systems should be in place to manage staff who cannot get a good fit with an FFP3 face mask. This may include the use of other equipment such as protective hoods. However, these are very costly and it is unlikely they will be readily available for all staff. In these circumstances, discussions will need to be held locally and, on rare occasions, it may be that a particular member of staff is unable to carry out on-call duties.

If the FFP3 face mask does not fit due to the member of staff having a beard, it is likely that it would be deemed a reasonable management request to shave in order to wear the protective mask unless the beard was necessary, such as for religious reasons.

Following the updated infection and prevention control guidelines released on 21 August 2020, you may be able to undertake some on call when patients are classified as low risk.

Guidelines for patient risk categories

(last reviewed: 5 Oct 2020)


Can I record on Datix that my trust failed to give me the PPE I should have received under the government’s guidance?

Yes, we encourage all members to make a notification on their employer’s incident reporting systems every time they are placed in an unsafe situation where they or others may or have been harmed at work. Examples of incidents that should be reported include staff ill-health directly related to their work, violence, and aggression.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently issued guidance on when Covid-19-related incidences must be reported by employers under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR). Reporting now should happen when:

  • An unintended incident at work has led to someone's possible or actual exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence.
  • A worker has been diagnosed as having Covid-19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of the disease.
  • A worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to coronavirus.

See examples of the above, provided by the HSE.

(last reviewed: 5 Oct 2020)


I am a private practitioner providing urgent and/or essential treatment to patients. Where do I access supplies of relevant PPE?

If you have been commissioned to provide an NHS service by the CCG and/or local authority, you should get in touch with the local CCG and/or local authority through its local Covid-19 arrangements. If you are providing wholly private services to fee-paying patients, then you must make your own arrangements to purchase PPE in the same way that you procure other consumables for your practice.

A list of PPE suppliers can be found at the end of this document:

https://www.physiofirst.org.uk/uploads/assets/844db3a0-620e-4f90-bd54cb6a6c40f27b/Guidance-for-opening-our-practices-050620.pdf

(last reviewed: 19 Nov 2020 )


What should I do if I experience skin issues from wearing PPE?

The CSP is aware of NHS staff incurring skin abrasions, bruising and pressure sores on the face through wearing their PPE for extended periods.

The key issue with wearing PPE is that your skin can become hot and sweaty when the equipment is worn for too long. Apart from this making the mask uncomfortable, there is a potential risk that its effectiveness may be compromised if it loosens or detaches while you are working. Regular breaks from wearing PPE are therefore essential throughout your shift.

The advice of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on disposable FFP3 masks is that they should be worn for less than an hour at any one time. The estimated total time of use should last no more than a work shift of 8 hours.

If you are experiencing skin abrasion or pressure sores on the face as a result of your PPE do:

  • Notify your manager and infection control lead as soon as possible.
  • Follow your Trust’s reporting processes for this injury incurred at work.
  • Make and keep a copy of your report.
  • Contact your CSP safety rep (if you have one). They have rights under legislation to investigate and request remedial action.

Dermatitis

Check the skin of your hands regularly, particularly if you are experiencing any itching or pain. The signs you need to be wary of are redness, scaling, flaking, blistering, weeping, cracking of the skin, and any swelling.

How can I prevent developing dermatitis when handwashing?

  • Thoroughly rinse off residual soap/hand cleanser.
  • Ensure your hands are completely dry before you put on your gloves.
  • Use emollient creams regularly, especially after you finish work. Check that all parts of your hands are covered.
  • Report concerns to your infection control lead and line manager. Early detection can help to prevent the development of more serious dermatitis.
  • Ask for hand hygiene products that are effective but gentle on your skin.
  • Your employer should provide good hand-drying facilities such as good-quality paper towels, and emollients in suitable dispensers to prevent cross-contamination.

Your employer’s health and safety responsibility

They have a duty of care to you under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. They should take prompt action when made aware of problems arising. If you find that your issues are not adequately resolved, then do contact your CSP safety rep or steward for support. If there is no CSP representative at your Trust, please call the CSP enquiries unit on 020 7306 6666 – they will refer you to the senior negotiating officer for your region.

(last reviewed: 5 Oct 2020)


Why does the CSP suggest different PPE requirements for rehabilitation and chest physiotherapy interventions?

The World Health Organisation is clear that coughing and sneezing produce respiratory droplets. Therefore, when providing rehabilitation to patients who are coughing, you should be using droplet precautions as a minimum. 

Certain chest physiotherapy techniques are intended to increase the strength and effectiveness of someone’s cough as part of an airway clearance regime. This may include manual techniques such as an assisted cough, expiratory thoracic compressions or mechanical devices. 

The World Health Organisation, therefore, suggests that ‘chest physiotherapy’ may be an AGP and it would be prudent to use airborne precautions (Infection control guidance, October 2019). 

Because of this, the CSP advises droplet precautions for mobility or rehabilitation where patients may cough or sneeze, and airborne precautions for chest physiotherapy treatments.

It is important to note that there may be individual clinical situations in which you feel that a higher level of PPE is required. In these circumstances, you should carry out and document a risk assessment and, if needed, this should be discussed with your line manager or infection control department. 

(last reviewed: 5 Oct 2020)


What is the current AGP guidance for clinicians working in education, childcare and children’s social care settings in England?

The CSP is aware of updated guidance for staff working in these settings issued by the Department of Education on 13 November, which explicitly excludes chest physiotherapy as an aerosol generating procedure (AGP), with reference to the Public Health England (PHE) PPE guidance. 

The CSP does not agree with this viewpoint and has lobbied PHE to change its position for some time (see other FAQs in this section).  We continue to advise all members, working in all contexts, to take aerosol precautions when performing chest physiotherapy with patients on the medium- or high-risk pathways.  Members should work with their local infection, prevention and control teams, NHS, education and public health teams to determine and agree local pathways. Risk assessment, in conjunction with national, professional and local guidance, remains key in order to determine the level of PPE required. 

(last reviewed: 24 Nov 2020)


What has the CSP done to address members' concerns about AGPs (aerosol generating procedures)?

In response to members' concerns and emerging evidence, the CSP has actively pursued clarification on the level of PPE that is appropriate to use with the coughing patient. We have also repeatedly requested transparency in the evidence used to define the list of AGPs (aerosol generating procedures). A summary of evidence justifying the selection of AGPs was published on 12 May 2020.

The CSP has joined with other professional bodies and trade unions to form part of the AGP Alliance who wrote to Prime Minister Johnson in late September 2020, highlighting concern over the current list of AGP’s and seeking they include a number of physiotherapy interventions.

In January 2021, the AGP Alliance wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock directly on the findings of the High Risk AGP Panel and the need for more urgent action on PPE. The AGP Alliance issued a statement about the letter.

In mid-October 2020, Ema Swingwood, Chair of ACPRC was invited to provide her expertise to the AGP panel which is reviewing the evidence regarding AGPs. Following this, in June 2021, the AGP Alliance submitted further evidence to the Public Accounts Committee as they undertook the next stage of their review into the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In June 2021, the AGP Alliance delivered a presentation to the Department of Health and Social Care, the Infection Prevention and Control Cell and Public Health England. This was specifically to press the Government to change its UK Infection Prevention Control Guidance to reflect short and long-range airborne transmission of COVID-19 and to recognise the need to provide frontline healthcare workers with enhanced PPE. This was in light of the new urgency created by the Delta variant.

Despite our constant lobbying, additional physiotherapy procedures have not yet been added to the list of AGPs. While this is disappointing, we encourage CSP members to continue to liaise with managers, infection control and CSP representatives should they have any concerns about individual risk in the workplace, while the CSP continues to lobby at a national level.

The CSP continue to be in regular contact with the public health bodies throughout the UK to ensure that our members have the most up to date guidance on PPE.

(last reviewed: 30 June 2021)


What should I do if my employer is providing FFP2 masks, when the task I am doing requires FFP3 masks?

You should raise this with your manager in the first instance and challenge the level of PPE being provided to you through the use of a risk assessment.

If this does not resolve the issue, contact your CSP health and safety rep or steward as well as the infection control manager for your employer.

If this does not resolve the issue, your health and safety rep or steward will contact the CSP for support from a senior negotiating officer.

For more information, see the CSP workplace and employment FAQs.

(last reviewed: 5 Oct 2020)


Are there any other considerations with regards to uniform, additional PPE and disposal, and using my own car if I work in the community?

PPE is standard clinical waste. Therefore, when treating patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 in their own homes, you can dispose of PPE waste through the householder’s normal waste collection. You can only put disposable PPE into the householder’s bin for non-recyclable waste – this typically includes aprons, gloves and masks (including fluid-repellent items).

You must also follow the current Public Health England (PHE) household guidance on cleaning and disposal of waste that could be infected with COVID-19.

This guidance states that you must securely store the PPE waste in disposable rubbish bags. You must place each bag inside another bag, then tie it and keep it separate from other waste. This waste must be set aside for at least 72 hours before being put in the usual external household bin for non-recyclable waste.

Regarding uniforms, ensure the correct level of PPE is worn for each patient contact, and disposed of in line with your local infection control policies and the guidance above. This, along with good hand hygiene, should reduce contamination of uniforms or cars.

For more advice, please refer to Environment Agency guidance on PPE waste from home healthcare workers treating patients with COVID-19.

(last reviewed: 5 Oct 2020)


What PPE should I wear when working with post-Covid-19 patients in rehab settings?

This will depend on whether your patient is classified as high, medium or low risk. In order to decide this level, see the updated infection prevention guidelines.

(last reviewed: 18 Feb 2021)


Last reviewed: