Coronavirus: GPs told to go to hardware shops for face masks

Single-use surgical masks may have to be re-used with different patients if supplies get low

GPs have been told to go to hardware shops or garden centres to look for face masks for treating high-risk patients if protective equipment becomes difficult to source Photograph: Daniel Dal Zennaro/EPA

GPs have been told to go to hardware shops or garden centres to look for face masks for treating high-risk patients if protective equipment becomes difficult to source Photograph: Daniel Dal Zennaro/EPA

 

GPs have been told to go to hardware shops or garden centres to look for face masks for treating high-risk patients if protective equipment becomes difficult to source.

Single-use surgical masks may have to be re-used with different patients if sufficient supplies cannot be procured, the Health Service Executive has also advised.

Where there is evidence that localised transmission of the virus in the community is occurring and may become more widespread, GPs and other surgery staff should use surgical masks if they need to spend more than a very brief time near a patient with a suspected respiratory tract infection, according to the advice from HSE microbiologist Prof Martin Cormican.

Cases involving community transmission of the disease have been confirmed in Cork and Waterford, but many doctors believe the virus is circulating more widely but has yet to be picked up.

While best practice is to dispose of a mask after each patient, Prof Cormican says “I would only consider varying from this practice if forced to do so because it was not possible to procure a sufficient supply of masks”.

Face-to-face

Where a face-to-face assessment is needed, the patient will be told to walk from their car holding a tissue over their nose and mouth, and may be given a face-mask if available.

“The GP should maintain a distance of 1m or more from the patient except when necessary.”

If protective equipment becomes very difficult to source, “it may be necessary for the GP to use the same mask and face protection throughout the series of appointments”.

“If necessary, because of limited supplies plastic goggles/face shield protection may be washed in detergent and water or wiped all over with a disinfectant wipe and reused after drying.

“Note it may be possible to obtain faces shields in hardware shops or garden centres that were intended for other purposes but provide an effective see-through barrier for the face if equipment intended for healthcare cannot be sourced.

Glasses may offer some protection but should not be relied upon because of the lack of side protection, according to Prof Cormican.