Hospitals could reduce sickness absence and halve the number of hospital-acquired Covid-19 infections by permanently switching from surgical masks to FFP3 respirators, a study has found.
FFP3 face masks were used widely by the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic and health workers were recommended to use them when dealing with anyone suspected to have the virus.
However, a recent study by the York Economic Health Consortium (YEHC) suggests that the universal use of properly-fitted FFP3 masks in NHS hospitals should continue, as they offer an enhanced level of protection that could dramatically reduce sickness absence among health workers to levels similar to the general population.
Additional research carried out by Vital Economics found that cutting the number of health workers infected with Covid-19 at work would add an additional 1.8 million staff days per year, which it suggested would go some way to helping alleviate NHS waiting lists and increasing hospital capacity.
YEHC found that the potential cost savings associated with a lower staff absence rate would make FFP3 masks a more cost-effective option for the NHS than standard surgical masks.
YEHC associate director Hayden Holmes said: “There is existing evidence which demonstrates that FFP3 respirators are more effective than standard surgical masks at preventing respiratory disease infections like Covid-19. However, a key finding of this study is that there is the potential that FFP3 masks are also cost-effective when compared with surgical masks because of the number of hospital acquired infections they would prevent, for both patients and staff.”
Vital Economics founder Peter Dodd said: “Tackling staff shortages through recruitment and training alone is a costly and slow process. But by keeping existing staff healthy with comfortable, properly fitting FFP3 masks, which offer close to 100% protection against infection, we can help avoid a winter crisis in the NHS and tackle waiting lists. Ultimately FFP3 masks can save the health service hundreds of millions of pounds and reduce staff and patient suffering.”
The studies, commissioned by mask manufacturer Globus Group, add to the growing evidence base for the use of FFP3 masks in reducing Covid-19 infections.
Last year a study by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust found that the number of hospital-acquired Covid-19 infections among staff who switched to wearing FFP3 respirators in one hospital reduced by up to 100%. It concluded that the use of fluid-resistant surgical masks was “insufficient” to protect health workers.
Numerous organisations including the British Occupational Hygiene Society campaigned for all healthcare workers to be given FFP3 masks at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.