Coronavirus: NHS bosses considering staff beard ban, leaked memo reveals

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Police, fire and ambulance crew attend to an incident at Parsons Green underground station in London, Britain, September 15, 2017.  REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
Staff at the London Ambulance Service may be ordered to shave off beards to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. (Reuters/Luke MacGregor)

Paramedics may be ordered to shave off their beards amid coronavirus fears, a leaked memo has revealed.

A draft email by the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust said the service’s ability to handle potential cases was "adversely affected" by crews unable to wear respirators properly, the BBC reported.

The service said staff have been asked to consider shaving off beards but it has decided against enforcing the policy for now.

In an unsent internal bulletin, the trust wrote that "all staff in patient-facing roles must be clean shaven when on-duty".

Current policy asks staff to consider shaving to ensure respirator masks fit tightly against the face.

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The draft memo, issued to a group of managers on Saturday, said the service's "ability to respond to potential Covid-19 patients has been adversely affected by the low availability of crews who are successfully [tested for respiratory masks], which is partly driven by crew staff not being clean shaven".

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The memo said 50 clinical staff had failed so-called "fit tests" for protective masks due to their facial hair.

It went on to suggest staff with protected characteristics – such as religious beliefs or a disability – who could not shave would "be engaged with on a case-by-case basis and a number of alternative options have been identified to support this".

The Department of Health said there was no national policy on the issue.

An email sent to staff over the weekend said the trust had chosen to hold off issuing the new policy and was awaiting further guidance from Public Health England.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 30: An Ambulance on a emergency response call on May 30, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
An ambulance on an emergency response call in London, England. (John Keeble/Getty Images)

The Health and Safety Executive has said poor-fitting respirators can be "a major cause of leaks".

"If there are any gaps around the edges of the mask, 'dirty' air will pass through these gaps and into your lungs," it says on its website.

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Last month, an NHS trust in Southampton asked frontline staff to consider shaving facial hair to ensure respirators fit properly.

Britain’s third death from the coronavirus was announced on Sunday, and the number of cases diagnosed had reached 279 by Monday morning.

Boris Johnson chaired a Cobra meeting on Monday morning to decide what the UK government’s next steps will be to control the spread of the virus.

The Department of Health said it was for local NHS trusts to devise policy regarding respirators and facial hair.

A London Ambulance Service spokeswoman said: "The trust has asked clinical staff to consider shaving to undergo [respirator mask] fit testing and then remaining clean shaven to maintain compliance.

"We continue to adapt our response and one of the things we have considered is mandating staff to be clean shaven. However, we have not taken this step as the advice is changing quickly and we are awaiting further guidance from Public Health England in the coming days."

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