November 10, 2020

Successful Fit Testing Pilot transitions to on-going program

In August this year, Northern Health was pleased to be announced as the health service chosen by the Minister for Health to run a fit testing pilot.

To date, we have tested over 800 staff. The pilot is part of a broader program of work – the Respiratory Protection Program – that Northern Health is undertaking which seeks to ensure the optimal protection of our staff from respiratory pathogens, such as COVID-19. The pilot focused on fit testing staff working in high-risk areas such as COVID-19 wards, ICU, Emergency Department, Fever Clinic, Residential In-Reach and operating theatres.

Fit testing is a process to verify if a selected brand, model or size of an P2/N95 mask adequately fits the wearer. Testing is carried out with all the different types of masks available, to identify the best fitting mask and is repeated at regular intervals to ensure a consistent fit. P2/N95, which filter airborne pathogens, are currently recommended when health care workers are caring for hospitalised patients with COVID-19.

Dr Victoria Madigan, Infectious Diseases Physician and Clinical Lead for Respirator Fit Testing Pilot Program said, “We have been reaching out to offer fit testing to staff particularly from high-risk areas to ensure they know which masks are most appropriate for them.”

“Pleasingly, many of the staff from these areas have been able to come in and have a test and find out which mask best suits them. The majority of staff adequately fit a mask that we have available.”

During the testing, five to six masks are tested. The testing process assesses how well each mask achieves a close seal against the wearers face.

“We have done the first wide-spread fit testing program in health care in Victoria. Northern has been asked by Safer Care Victoria to use the information gained from developing this process help inform Respiratory Protection Programs being introduced across Victoria. In developing our program, we’ve relied a lot on the expertise of the occupational hygienists from Eva & Associates performing the fit testing as well as from our Clinical Nurse Educators who have been helping staff with the testing process.” Victoria said.

“Moving forward, fit testing is certainly going to be a key part of the Respiratory Protection Program,” Victoria added.

Information from this pilot is also being used to guide Victoria’s purchasing of P2/N95 stock, and support other health services establishing similar programs.

Clare McCarthy, Project Manager, said, “It’s really rewarding to be involved with the pilot, as we’re actually contributing to the evidence on fit testing and helping DHHS with its selection of P2/N95 respirators.”

The pilot has been a wonderful collaboration between different departments across Northern Health.

“This is Northern Health at its best — everyone has rallied to make it a success for our staff. From Operations, to Learning and Development, Nursing Education, Research, Supply, NCHER, Nursing and Medical Workforce — so many parts of our organisation have rolled their sleeves up to make this happen for more than 800 of our staff,” Clare explained.

“Nursing Education has played a crucial role in our staff welfare. We’ve been involved from day one, from providing information beforehand about what happens during the fit test, through to afterwards, by supporting staff with their result,” explained Tanya Williams, Clinical Nurse Educator.

“The occupational hygienists have also been really wonderful in helping everyone understand the process, and all the various aspects of the testing – there’s also a larger group of staff who sit on our working group and contribute,” Victoria added.

Fit testing has now transitioned to the Respiratory Service, with our respiratory scientists performing the testing on our staff.

Eventually, fit testing will be available for all staff who are required to wear P2 or N95 masks. Information about specific requirements for testing and how to book in to have this done will be available on the intranet in the near future.

“The aim is to test between 2,000 to 3,000 staff per year at this stage, so the next challenge will be to work out what the new normal is going to be.”

Featured Image (left to right): Michael Eva, HSE Consultant – Eva & Associates; Dr Victoria Madigan, Infectious Diseases Physician; Clare McCarthy, Project Manager; Tanya Williams, Clinical Nurse Educator and Susan Brown, Clinical Nurse Educator