NEWS: Five doctors who are combating the Covid-19 outbreak have been removed from service at British National Health Service (NHS) hospitals. This after doctors with beards refused to shave their facial hair and failed tests related to fitment of personal protective equipment. Followers of the Sikh faith follow certain rules of which one requirement is that hair is not to be cut.
The British Sikh doctors employed by the NHS are protesting after they were forced not to take up key medical roles due to their beards. It is understood that Sikh doctors have been recognised as a risk group during the treatment of Covid-19 patients as many with facial hair are unable to fit face masks properly increasing their risk of being infected by the coronavirus.
The National Health Service of the UK states that medical staff who are treating Covid-19 patients, are obligated to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes face masks. While there are no official guidelines in terms of facial hair, it is understood that NHS employers have been asked to create awareness over the risks of facial hair and treating patients with Covid-19.
The NHS Employers website notes: “Beards, stubble and facial hair cause a common problem when using PPE face masks, as this can prevent the mask being able to seal to the face and passing the fit test.”
If staff are not willing to shave their facial hair, NHS employers have been given the option to shift clinical staff to non-clinical areas.
Face mask alternatives
There are a series of alternatives personal protective equipment including using mask hoods or helmets, or specialist facial protective masks called Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs). These alternative protective gear are far more expensive and in short supply and require additional training time, which makes them less feasible than the traditional masks.
Britain’s Sikh doctors are now protesting demanding for a better procurement strategy of these specialist face masks by the NHS. This would then enable healthcare workers to continue their critical services and to maintain their facial hair while working.
On its website, the Sikh Doctors Association states, “A number of Sikh health professionals have expressed concerns to us over their NHS employing authorities requesting removal of facial hair, in the course of providing appropriately fitting FFP3 facemasks. These special masks are designed to be ‘fitted tightly’ to the face and do not confer the required protection from airborne viruses to wearers with beards.
“Beards are a key article of the Sikh religious faith and identity. Shaving of facial hair for Sikhs goes against their religious faith,” it adds.
While some argue that facial does not affect the use of masks, research carried out in the UK in 2015 found that even a 24-hour stubble can affect the quality of protection a mask is able to provide.