A NURSE who has served on the frontline in the coronavirus pandemic has raised serious concerns about “defective” PPE used by staff.

The Cumberland Infirmary nurse, who wishes to remain anonymous, says her concerns surrounding PPE weren’t adequately addressed by the North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust - which runs the Carlisle hospital.

“I raised this with the Health and Safety Executive locally that the PPE was against the Health and Safety at Work Act,” she explained.

After taking her complaints to the Government’s health and safety regulator, she then contacted NHS England.

Prior to the use of FFP 3 respirators, roughly two weeks after the hospital received its first coronavirus patient, staff using given 3-ply surgical masks.

The Health and Safety Executive says that surgical masks provide about a 6-fold reduction in exposure. By contrast, properly fitted respirators could provide at least a 100-fold reduction.

The nurse says that after staff started to become sick across the country, the Government shifted its stance on masks - saying FFP 3 or equivalent masks should be used when treating coronavirus patients.

“On a national level the Government set up a stockpile of masks they bought for swine flu and they didn’t maintain them, so they ended up out-of-date nationally,” she explained.

“On the boxes the expiry date had a new sticker over it – 2016, 2018, 2018 – some are six years out of date.

“The reason staff are upset is the the trust knew it was happening, they could have stepped up and said no. They didn’t and went with the PHE advice and NHS England advice.

“No staff knew about it until a member of staff saw something on the boxes, investigated it and confirmed it was the case we were being asked to use equipment that was – in my opinion – defective.

“Had they said, ‘we have got this stuff, it is out of date and it is going to affect the level of protection, but it is better than nothing, people would have said, ‘okay, we will take our chances.

“Instead, they forced out-of-date equipment on us without consent. They said it was fine for them to wander around in three-ply surgical masks, against every guideline about infectious diseases.”

On the website of 3M - the manufacturer of the NHS used FFP 3 respirators - their guidance says, “Most respirators have a limited shelf life, after which they are intended to be discarded. The longer a respirator is stored beyond its shelf life, or stored outside the recommended conditions, the less likely it is to perform at its full potential.”

The nurse says she has yet to see the proof that - as Public Health England say - out-of-date respirators were tested.

Earlier attempts by Channel 4 to acquire such proof, were also unsuccessful.

Most of the criticism the nurse has is aimed at the Government’s response to the pandemic, but she says the north Cumbrian trust should also shoulder some of the blame.

“The thought of no one looking out for you is a bit upsetting,” she said.

“I have been working for the NHS for a long time and I have never experienced something like this. It makes you very despondent, it doesn’t make you want to go to work. It doesn’t make you want to do anything other than go in, do what you can and get paid."

The NHS worker says she is grateful for the support from the community.

“The lovely things like meals coming in, the comforting emails, which just makes life easier. That has been really nice and humbling, but that has come from outside. From bosses, not even a thank you.”

A spokeswoman for the North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our 6,000 strong work force have been outstanding throughout this pandemic and we’ve seen over 300 staff being redeployed into other roles and even coming out of retirement and volunteering to support the response.

“For all of our staff and our front line staff in particular this unprecedented event has been exceptionally challenging. In line with the rest of the country, NHS staff have been concerned throughout these difficult times and that this has had a significant impact on them.

“One of our key objectives from the start of the incident response was to protect staff and that has been at the forefront of our mind throughout. We have provided staff with PPE in line with or above national guidelines and have received regular assurance that the equipment received via the NHS supply chain was safe for us to use.

"Some expiry dates had not been updated due to the urgent need to distribute masks however items had undergone stringent testing before being supplied back to trusts. We regularly communicated this national position to our staff including providing links to the national FAQs on the subject.

"We have regularly thanked our staff through our communications, through the board level and senior leaders personally visiting staff and regular meeting with staff representatives to listen and respond, however we appreciate there is always more we can do.

“Our trust response is documented in ‘our covid story’ publication - it has been exceptionally challenging and the biggest incident we have experienced in the history of the NHS. There are lessons we need to learn as we move forward, however our staff have been outstanding in rising to the challenge and have kept our communities as safe as possible during this unprecedented event.

“We would encourage any member of staff who has concerns to raise these with their line manager, to a member of the executive team or the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian which can be raised in confidence.”