A company which conducted improper tests on masks protecting staff against coronavirus should be withdrawn until investigation is complete, nurses said.
Health care workers have been left concerned and anxious, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) added.
UK fitting requirements were not followed by an independent contractor but any risk to users is likely to be low, the Public Health Agency (PHA) said.
6/6 @RCN_NI Director @patcullen9 concluded: "It is totally unacceptable that staff find out about such issues in this way and we have no doubt anxiety will be heightened. Communication with staff must improve as a matter of urgency.â pic.twitter.com/Q5shjL3AyH— RCN Northern Ireland (@RCN_NI) June 24, 2020
RCN Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen said: “The RCN has asked the Department of Health to withdraw the company involved from completing any further work until an objective, external investigation is completed.
“This is what our members expect and deserve.”
The PHA has been asked by the Department of Health to undertake a serious adverse incident review.
The contractor which tested masks on some occasions inadvertently applied a fit-testing setting not normally used in Northern Ireland, the PHA said.
Doctors believe the Republic’s standards designed to prevent leaks were met instead.
The PHA said this should have been readjusted to the UK’s requirements.
Ms Cullen said: “The RCN is extremely concerned at the revelation that some health care staff have been put at risk as a result of incorrect fitting of respiratory masks.
“We have written to the Department of Health and health care trusts urgently, demanding answers on a number of issues.”
She added: “Our members will rightly be very concerned about these unfolding developments and will require support and advice on managing the levels of risk they have been exposed to.”
Dr Tom Black, chairman of the British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland Council, said the testing may have met standards set in the Republic of Ireland, which follows the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
He added: “At this stage we cannot quantify the risk this oversight has had on staff affected, but at the very least it has damaged confidence in the fit testing system.
“This confidence was already tested with issues over supply and quality of personal protective equipment at the start of the pandemic.
“We’ve also been told by some of our own members they were left with the impression they had failed fit testing only to be informed they had passed.”
One more person has died from Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, bringing the overall total to 547, the Department of Health said.
A new group has been established to learn from care home experiences of Covid-19, Health Minister Robin Swann added.
The group includes representation from the independent care home sector, the Health and Social Care system and the Royal College of Nursing.
Mr Swann said: “There is no doubt that Covid-19 has hit our care homes very hard.
“They have been and will continue to be to the fore in all our efforts against this virus.
“We must do everything we can to protect them.”