NHS hospitals have been warned about the risk of wearing the wrong kind of face mask during surgeries following a number of serious infections.
Respirator masks have been acquired by the millions during the coronavirus pandemic but sometimes have been deployed in inappropriate settings, according to a patient safety alert issued by NHS England.
Masks of the FFP3 type which have exhalation valves do not filter the air being expelled, and nor do the powered hoods (PAPRs) provided to medics who cannot achieve a tight seal with the ordinary masks, the alert said.
The document is a warning to any staff involved in “surgical and invasive procedures” or undertaking a task that requires sterility.
It follows reports that condensation dripping from exhalation valves has led to one “extensive” brain infection and three heart infections in surgical patients, NHS England said.
It added: “These incident reports and feedback from services suggest that the risks of valved respirators and PAPRs for surgical and invasive procedures is not well recognised, and that their use may have become routine in some theatre environments.”
Contamination of a body part being operated on can lead to disability or death, regulators warned.
Hospital bosses should introduce clear labelling in areas where FFP3 masks are stocked to inform staff of the situations in which they should not be used, they added. The valved versions should also be removed from areas where they are not needed.