There is debate over whether nurses should use full body suits with respirators when treating Ebola patients — Australian authorities believe that following proper PPE protocols is vital to safety.
Only the UK and South African government health authorities recommend the use of respirators for healthcare workers and laboratory scientists for confirmed cases of viral haemorrhagic fevers including Ebola.
Humanitarian aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is the only international agency currently using them.
In New South Wales body suits with respirators are available to nurses at Westmead, the designated hospital for treating Ebola patients.
But Lyn Gilbert, director of Westmead’s Centre for Infectious diseases and recently appointed chair of Australia’s National Public Health Partnership, says so far authorities here feel that a fluid resistant gown, fluid repellant mask, goggles or a face shield, shoe covers and gloves, or possibly double gloves if there is a lot of fluid, are the basic requirements.
“This is equipment that an emergency department and all nurses should be familiar with. It’s really a matter of emphasising the importance of putting them on properly and making sure they’re done up as they should be, and in the past that hasn’t always happened.”
Professor Gilbert says training in the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is the most important factor.
“The main emphasis we have [at Westmead] is to try to ensure staff are putting on PPE they’re familiar with, that they’re doing things slowly and, particularly, that they feel comfortable.
“There’s nothing worse than having PPE that you feel claustrophobic in and that you pull off as soon as you get the opportunity.
“The taking off of PPE is the most important time when it has to be done carefully and with a buddy system so there’ll always be someone with a person when they come out of a room where the patient was and will talk them through taking off PPE in reverse order.
“If there’s new equipment they haven’t used before, they’ll be properly trained and have the opportunity to practice with it beforehand. That’s all in progress now and has been going on for several weeks.”
Professor Gilbert says it is always important to ask the travel history of any patient presenting with flu-like systems, although often it isn’t done.
“At present there’s so much publicity and so much information that you would hope every emergency triage nurse would ask that question.
“In Australia, Ebola is first and foremost being regarded as a public health issue since most private hospitals don’t have emergency departments,” she said.
Pictured above: Lyn Gilbert, director of Westmead’s Centre for Infectious diseases
It is crucial that nurses put on personal protective equipment (PPE) properly and remove it carefully, with a buddy system to ensure items are removed in reverse order. Nurses are advised to don equipment methodically and ensure they are comfortable.
“There’s nothing worse than having PPE that you feel claustrophobic in and that you pull off as soon as you get the opportunity,” says Lyn Gilbert, director of Westmead’s Centre for Infectious diseases.
You'll automatically become a member of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation