Personal protective equipment (PPE) for the health workforce during COVID-19

PPE for coronavirus (COVID-19) includes surgical masks, particulate filter respirators (such as P2 or N95), gloves, goggles, glasses, face shields, gowns and aprons. Find out who in the health workforce should use PPE, how to use it, and how we are managing it in our National Medical Stockpile.

Why use PPE?

PPE protects the wearer from infection. Proper use helps keep health workers safe and stops the spread of COVID-19.  

Who should use PPE

You do not always have to use PPE when providing treatment or care.

Use PPE if you:

  • care for someone suspected, probable or confirmed COVID-19
  • undertake clinical examination or collect specimens from people who have suspected, probable or confirmed COVID-19
  • have significant contact with people who have fever or acute respiratory symptoms 
  • work directly with patients or residents in an area with significant community transmission – community transmission is defined by jurisdictional public health authorities.

Read guidance on using masks or respirators.

Give surgical masks to patients to wear straight away if they:

  • are under quarantine or investigation for COVID-19
  • are suspected, probable or confirmed cases of COVID-19
  • have fever or acute respiratory symptoms.

If you do not have the appropriate PPE to assess patients or collect specimens, refer the person to a collection centre, a GP respiratory clinic or emergency department.

For more information, see

How to use PPE

Wear the following PPE when caring for someone with suspected, probable or confirmed COVID-19:

  • long-sleeved gown or apron
  • surgical mask
  • protective eyewear such as a face shield, safety goggles or dedicated safety glasses
  • disposable non-sterile gloves.

Use a particulate filter respirator instead of a surgical mask when caring for patients or residents with suspected, probable or confirmed COVID-19:

  • when performing procedures that generate aerosols
  • in emergency departments, residential care facilities, or in-patient settings when:
    • undertaking close clinical care of patients/residents who have cognitive impairment, are unable to cooperate or show challenging behaviours
    • there are high numbers of suspected, probable or confirmed COVID-19 patients and a risk of challenging behaviours and/or unplanned aerosol-generating procedures.

Fit-check your particulate filter respirator with each use.

After the consultation, procedure or episode of patient contact, remove your PPE. Perform hand hygiene after each individual PPE item is removed.

When removing PPE, do not touch the front of any item.  Perform hand hygiene before and after both donning and doffing of PPE, following the guidance in the following links.

You should also use PPE to protect yourself when cleaning or disinfecting.

For more detail, see:

Informing patients about PPE

When communicating with patients, explain:

  • you do not always need to wear PPE if you are both well
  • if you wear a mask or other PPE it is for their and your protection.

If people in your practice wear PPE, you may want to provide signage near the entrance advising this is to protect patients and staff.

If you are a health practitioner providing in-home care, let the patient know in advance that you may wear a mask or other PPE when visiting their home.

Accessing PPE

The Government has a limited supply of PPE that it can provide from the National Medical Stockpile for use in a national emergency. Our priority during COVID-19, is to ensure staff in frontline health services likely to come into contact with people with COVID-19 have PPE.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, sourcing PPE was challenging due to unprecedented international demand. PPE supply is now returning and the reliance on the National Medical Stockpile should only be where commercial supply is unavailable.

Primary health care employers may need to work with a variety of commercial PPE suppliers, beyond their traditional suppliers. This will ensure adequate PPE stock levels are available and maintained, enabling safe and effective infection prevention and control.

PPE Distribution

Primary Health Networks (PHNs) can provide masks and respirators from the National Medical Stockpile to:

  • general practitioners (GPs)
  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) and Health Services
  • community pharmacies.

PHNs can provide masks to allied health professionals in some circumstances. Allied health professionals may be eligible if:

  • the masks are for staff to use
  • there is no commercial supply available
  • they are working in higher-risk clinical areas, and with higher risk vulnerable patients.

PHNs will also consider whether the allied health professional can adjust how they practice to reduce risk.

For information about PPE standards, read regulation of PPE and COVID-19 on the Therapeutic Goods Administration website.

Read more about how we manage the limited supply of PPE.

Eligibility for surgical masks from PHNs

PHNs will provide surgical masks to GPs and ACCHOs if they have a demonstrated need, such as:

  • there is no local supply available commercially
  • the people coming to your practice are more likely to have been exposed to COVID-19
  • your practice has an unusual number of patients who have respiratory symptoms.

PHNs will provide surgical masks to community pharmacies if they meet both of the criteria below:

  • there is no local supply available commercially
  • staff have significant contact with people who have fever and respiratory symptoms.

Eligibility for respirators from PHNs

PHNs will provide respirators to GPs and ACCHOs who:

  • need to assess suspected COVID-19 cases
  • do not have respiratory clinics or emergency departments nearby.

These practices must have:

  • isolation facilities and other appropriate infrastructure
  • staff who are trained to use PPE
  • a pandemic plan.

You must use respirators with other PPE (gowns, gloves and eye protection).

Requesting masks and respirators from PHNs

When you contact your PHN to make a request, explain how you meet the eligibility requirements.

For the contact details of your PHN, use the PHN map locator.

If you’re eligible

Generally, PHNs will provide:

  • 2 boxes of 50 surgical masks to each practice
  • 1 box of 50 surgical masks to each community pharmacy.

Depending on stock levels PHNs may be able to provide you with more based on your practice size and demonstrated need.

You can give these surgical masks to:

  • your staff to use for their protection
  • patients and customers who may have COVID-19
  • patients and customers who have a confirmed case of COVID-19.

We have supplied PHNs with a small number of respirators. They will conserve these stocks as far as possible.

You must not sell these masks or respirators as commercial stock.

How we’re managing PPE supply

National Medical Stockpile PPE supplies have been sourced in a competitive global market where access to sufficient volume of PPE from traditional suppliers has been limited due to unprecedented international demand.

The National Medical Stockpile rapidly contracted a range of suppliers to deliver products from both Australia and overseas. These products all meet the National Medical Stockpile quality assurance measures ensuring products deployed are safe, effective and fit for purpose.

The National Medical Stockpile only releases products for dispatch where there is a high level of confidence in their quality, based on a range of assurance activities. These products are supported by post‑contracting assurance activities such as a targeted Therapeutic Goods Administration post market review and independent product testing against Australian Standards. The National Medical Stockpile has also used Australian Government contracts to ensure appropriate specifications are met as part of the purchase.

We ask the health workforce to use PPE conservatively where possible.

The Australian Government is:

  • working with local industry to increase local production of PPE
  • working with international suppliers
  • providing PPE in response to demonstrated need.

Until we have enough for everyone, our priority is to ensure staff in frontline health services likely to come into contact with people with COVID-19 have PPE. This includes:

  • public hospitals
  • general practices
  • community pharmacies
  • other settings where people are most likely to present with COVID-19
  • aged care providers (services with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case, or where clinical advice requires it).

PPE for disability support services and workers

Read about how disability support services and workers can access PPE.

PPE for the general public

For PPE advice for the general public, see:

Staying informed

To stay up to date on COVID-19:

You can also join our WhatsApp channel or use our COVID-19 app.

Australian Government WhatsApp channel for COVID-19

Join our COVID-19 WhatsApp channel to learn the latest on Australia's response to coronavirus (COVID-19). If you're already a WhatsApp user you can send a message to the channel to connect. If you don't have WhatsApp, download the app to join the channel.

Coronavirus Australia app

Stay up to date with official information and advice about the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. You can check your symptoms and get notified when urgent information and updates are published.

Resources

Online training

A 30-minute online module — COVID-19 infection control training — is available for care workers across all health care settings.

This training is hosted on an external site, provided by our COVID-19 training partner Aspen Medical.

Register now

Publications and fact sheets

See our resources for health professionals on PPE.

Guidance on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals during the COVID-19 outbreak

An information sheet about the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) during hospital care of people with coronavirus (COVID-19).

Coronavirus (COVID-19) resources for health professionals, including aged care providers, pathology providers and health care managers

A collection of resources for health professionals, including aged care providers, pathology providers and health care managers, about coronavirus (COVID-19).

Webinars

View our webinars on the COVID-19 response for the health and aged care sector.

Last updated: 
14 December 2020

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