Personal protective equipment (PPE) for the health workforce during COVID-19

  • By:Connexions
  • Date:2020/07/23

PPE for coronavirus (COVID-19) includes surgical masks, P2/N95 respirators, gloves, goggles, glasses, face shields, gowns and aprons. Find out who in the health workforce should use PPE, how to use PPE, and how we are managing the PPE in our National Medical Stockpile.

  • Why use PPE?

PPE protects the wearer from infection. Proper use helps keep health workers safe and stops the spread of COVID-19.  

  • Who should use PPE

You do not always have to use PPE when providing treatment or care.

Use PPE if you:

  • care for someone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19
  • assess or collect specimens from people who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19
  • have significant contact with people who have fever or respiratory symptoms that suggest COVID- 19

Give surgical masks to patients to wear straight away if they:

  • are under quarantine or investigation for COVID-19
  • are suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19

have fever or respiratory symptoms

  • How to use PPE

Wear the following PPE when caring for someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19:

  • long-sleeved gown
  • surgical mask
  • face shield, goggles or safety glasses
  • disposable non-sterile gloves

Use a P2/N95 respirator instead of a surgical mask for:

  • frequent close contact with patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19
  • procedures that generate aerosols

Fit-check your P2/N95 respirator with each use.

After the consultation or patient contact, remove your PPE. Perform hand hygiene after each individual PPE item is removed.

When removing PPE, do not touch the front of any item. Perform hand hygiene if you think contamination has occurred at any point.

  • Informing patients about PPE

When communicating with patients, explain:

  • you do not always need to wear PPE if you are both well
  • if you wear a mask or other PPE it is for their and your protection

If people in your practice wear PPE, you may want to provide signage near the entrance advising this is to protect patients and staff.

If you are a health practitioner providing in-home care, let the patient know in advance that you may wear a mask or other PPE when visiting their home.

  • Accessing PPE

Primary Health Networks (PHN) can provide masks and respirators from the National Medical Stockpile to:

  • general practitioners (GPs)
  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) and Health Services
  • community pharmacies

PHNs can provide masks to allied health professionals in some circumstances. Allied health professionals may be eligible if:

  • the masks are for staff to use
  • there is no commercial supply available
  • they are working in higher-risk clinical areas, and with higher risk vulnerable patients

PHNs will also consider whether the allied health professional can adjust how they practice to reduce risk.

For information about PPE standards, read regulation of PPE and COVID-19 on the Therapeutic Goods Administration website.

Read more about how we manage the limited supply of PPE.

  • Eligibility for surgical masks from PHNs

PHNs will provide surgical masks to GPs and ACCHOs if they have a demonstrated need. This includes:

  • there is no local supply available commercially
  • the people coming to your practice are more likely to have been exposed to COVID-19
  • your practice has an unusual number of patients who have respiratory symptoms

PHNs will provide surgical masks to community pharmacies if they meet both of the criteria below:

  • there is no local supply available commercially
  • staff have significant contact with people who have fever and respiratory symptoms

  • Eligibility for respirators from PHNs

PHNs will provide respirators to GPs and ACCHOs who:

  • need to assess suspected COVID-19 cases
  • do not have respiratory clinics or emergency departments nearby

These practices must have:

  • isolation facilities and other appropriate infrastructure
  • staff who are trained in using PPE
  • a pandemic plan

You must use respirators with other PPE (gowns, gloves and eye protection).

  • Requesting masks and respirators from PHNs

When you contact your PHN to make a request, explain how you meet the eligibility requirements.

For the contact details of your PHN, use the PHN map locator.

  • If you’re eligible

Generally, PHNs will provide:

  • 2 boxes of 50 surgical masks to each practice
  • 1 box of 50 surgical masks to each community pharmacy

Depending on stock levels, they may give you more. They will consider the size of your practice or other demonstrated need.

You can give these surgical masks to:

  • your staff to use for their protection
  • patients and customers who may have COVID-19
  • patients and customers who have a confirmed case of COVID-19

We have supplied PHNs with a small number of respirators. They will conserve these stocks as far as possible.

  • How we’re managing PPE supply

There is a global shortage of PPE. We are working to increase our National Medical Stockpile and provide more PPE.

We ask the health workforce to use PPE conservatively where possible.

The Australian Government is:

  • working with local industry to increase local production of PPE
  • working with international suppliers
  • allocating PPE as we receive them

Until we have enough for everyone, our priority is to ensure staff in frontline health services likely to come into contact with people with COVID-19 have PPE. This includes:

    • public hospitals
    • general practices
    • community pharmacies
    • other settings where people are most likely to present with COVID-19
    • aged care providers (if there is an outbreak)

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