Doctors in Unite (DiU) has organised a demonstration in London tomorrow (Tuesday 27 July) over the failure to offer proper PPE protection against airborne transmission to health and social care staff during the continuing coronavirus crisis.

Doctors in Unite  is protesting at what it claims is the continued refusal of Public Health England (PHE) to review their guidance to properly protect NHS and social care staff against airborne transmission of Covid-19.

The socially distanced protest will be outside the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), 39 Victoria St, London SW1H 0EU at 18.00 tomorrow (Tuesday 27 July).

It is estimated that more than 1,500 health and social care workers have so far died of Covid-19 and more than 150,000 have ‘long Covid’. Tens of thousands of patients have caught Covid in hospital and over 8,000 of them have died. 

However, DiU argues that despite very clear evidence, and agreement by the great majority of doctors and scientists, that Covid-19 is predominantly spread through the air, most health care staff are not adequately protected most of the time from risk of airborne transmission. 

Despite concerted efforts by dozens of health organisations, including the BMA, RCN, Unite the Union and the GMB, the DHSC and PHE have refused to amend official guidance. The guidance has been described by the RCN as ‘fundamentally flawed’; it leaves hundreds of thousands of health care workers (HCWs) at risk of the Delta variant, and countless patients at risk of hospital acquired infection.

Chair of Doctors in Unite Dr Jackie Applebee said. “Enough is really enough.  We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand any longer and pretend that airborne transmission is not a risk everywhere, including hospitals wards, outpatient clinics and offices.

“Official guidelines for infection control are not only out of date, they are unfit for purpose. With the Delta wave of Covid hitting our hospitals and surgeries right now, all health care staff should be issued respirator masks like FFP3s without further delay.

“This issue should be at the top of health and social care secretary Sajid Javid’s in-tray and he needs to act with the utmost urgency to ensure our brave and dedicated NHS and social care colleagues have the best protective equipment available.”

Speakers at the demo will include Unite the Union, United Voices of the World (UVW), Equality4BlackNurses, and Doctors in Unite.  The XR Samba band will also be playing.


For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065.

Please note the numbers above are for journalists’ enquiries only.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: 

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.

Further information

Fluid resistant surgical masks (FRSM) provide much less protection to both the wearer and those around them, than FFP3 respirator masks.  Yet surgical masks are the recommended PPE for the vast majority of health care staff, apart from so-called ‘high risk’ areas and procedures.  The fact is that everyone produces airborne aerosols all the time, when we breathe or talk or laugh, means that, as Professor Catherine Noakes says, whenever you have people together in the same space there is risk of transmission.

It is nonsensical therefore to say, as the current guidelines do, that airborne risk only applies to certain procedures called ‘aerosol generating procedures’ (AGPs).  Indeed the Lancet recently called for the term ‘AGP’ to be abandoned because many of the procedures in fact produce little aerosol at all, but more importantly it misleads staff to think that airborne risk is not present everywhere.

A study at Birmingham Hospital showed that housekeeping staff have the highest infection rates of all, followed by staff on general wards.  ICU staff had less than half the infection rate, yet they are the only group routinely given FFP3 masks. 

A recent study at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge showed that when staff switched from surgical masks to FFP3s, there was almost 100% protection.  That trust has now instituted FFP3 masks for all its staff, as have several other hospital trusts.

Deaths and ‘long Covid’:  1,500 UK health and social care workers1 have died of Covid-19, more than anywhere else in Europe and at three times the rate per person than the USA.2   63% of Covid deaths in NHS workers have been Black and Asian health care workers. 3 Over 150,000 health and care workers have long Covid 4 according to the ONS.

8,000 patients have died of Covid they caught while in hospital while more than 40,000 have been infected in hospital 5

Official infection control guidance 6 is hopelessly out of date, and defies the laws of physics.  It says:

  • It is currently not known whether this virus can be transmitted via the airborne route as a result of normal breathing or coughing,” when a mountain of evidence and the great majority of doctors and scientists say this is the main form of spread. 7
  • Airborne risk only occurs during aerosol generating procedures (AGPs); the Lancet 8 has called this wrong and misleading and has called for the term AGP to be abandoned
  • Only 5um size aerosols remain airborne, when basic physics (Stokes’ law) clearly shows up to 100um size aerosols can travel long distances through the air.

Repeated efforts 9 have been made to persuade “the Infection Control Cell” (those who issue official policy) that the guidance is outdated and leading to high rates of infection and death for patients and health care staff, but they refuse to change the guidance.  The Royal College of Nursing calls the guidance “fundamentally flawed”. 10 

A Birmingham hospital study showed that housekeeping staff and clinical staff on medical wards had more than twice the rate of infection of ICU staff. 12  Only ICU staff get FFP3 masks under current guidance. 

A recent study at Addenbrooke’s hospital 11 showed that changing from surgical masks to FFP3 masks dramatically reduced infections in staff by up to 100%.  All staff there now get FFP3 masks. 



1.     Matt Hancock 10 June 2021 Health Select Committee

2.     Byline Times 15 June 2021

3.     BBC1 Why is Covid killing people of colour 8 March 2021

4.     ONS report into long Covid 1 April 2021

5.     Independent February and May 2021

6.     Healthcare Infection Society 30 April 2021

7.     Summarised in BMJ 14 April 2021; Lancet 15 April 2021; JAMA 16 April 2021

8.     Lancet 6 May 2021

9.     See Queens Nursing Institute statement for example

10.   RCN 7 March 2021

11.   University of Cambridge 29 June 2021

12.   Thorax 11 September 2020