Nursing and Midwifery Council statement on Personal Protective Equipment during the Covid-19 pandemic


15 April 2020

By Elizabeth Bradshaw

Nursing and Midwifery Council statement on Personal Protective Equipment during the Covid-19 pandemic

We are experiencing extremely difficult times currently with the pandemic showing little sign of leaving these shores any time soon. And those at the sharp end, the medical professionals upon whom we all rely, are struggling more than most. Day in day out, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are going to work in order to try and save lives but are having to do so, in some cases, without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) being  in place.

There has been much media coverage about this issue both nationally and locally but the PPE issue doesn’t seem to be going away. To the extent that, yesterday, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) felt compelled to issue a statement on the topic so that all their members have guidance when considering their duties and responsibilities whilst treating patients where there is an issue regarding lack of appropriate PPE.

The statement can be found on the NMC's website but confirms that their employer (in most, but not all cases, the NHS) is responsible for ensuring that staff have all the necessary protective equipment (including clothing) and access to current guidance on how and when to use it to minimise the risk of transmission of Covid-19. Further, that if there are concerns about the availability or use of PPE, then these should be raised with a manager at the earliest opportunity.

The NMC's statement continues that their members should not feel that they have to place themselves or others at risk. But we are not living in a perfect world at the moment and healthcare staff, it seems, are having to perform aspects of their job without the appropriate equipment. The NMC's communication provides further guidance about factors to consider when having to make difficult decisions quickly about the safest and best course of action.

What the guidance specifically states is that there may be circumstances in which a decision to refuse to provide care or treatment to an individual may need to be made because it is not safe to do so. Having heard numerous tales of nursing staff's bravery and dedication throughout this crisis such instances are likely to be few but they might increase should the PPE position not improve. Staff should feel confident that they can make difficult decisions with the backing and guidance of their representative bodies.

It is highly important that healthcare professionals making such decisions can justify them at a later date should the need ever arise for them to do so. On that basis a record of decisions regarding safety concerns should be made as soon as possible to the event, describing in as much detail as possible how professional judgement was used, the role of other members of the team in the decision making and the outcome.

It is sincerely hoped that there will be little recourse in the future to regulatory sanctions against those in the healthcare professions arising as a result of the current pandemic but if difficult decisions have to be taken it is, of course, best to have timely supporting evidence to back these up.

In respect of potential regulatory sanctions, the Chief Executives of statutory regulators in health and care profession issued a joint statement in March (which can also be found on the NMC's website) recognising the highly challenging circumstances in which individuals are having to operate and that there may need to be a departure from established procedures. Also, that where a concern is raised about a registered professional, this will always be considered on the specific facts of the case and taking into account factors relevant to the prevailing environment in which the professional is working.

On the basis of the highly courageous work being carried out so unselfishly by healthcare professions all over the country, it is to be hoped that regulatory matters are few and far between. Any professional concerned about difficult decisions concerning PPE and treatment should raise these with their manager and if necessary seek advice from their representative body or trade union.

If any regulatory issues should arise during the pandemic and legal advice is required in respect of these, then please contact Peter Butterfield of this firm to discuss further.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.