Seventy five per cent of NHS workers in the UK are women, a figure that rises to 90 percent for nurses. And yet the personal protective equipment (PPE) currently being used across the country’s 1,257 hospitals were designed for the “size and shape of male bodies”.
That’s according to the British Medical Association, a professional organisation for doctors, with over 160,000 members.
Overnight, the organisation expressed their concerns to The Independent as criticism grows against the government’s lack of action over the urgent shortage of PPE, including items such as hand sanitizer, gloves, and face masks.
“Female doctors and other NHS staff are having issues with filtering face-piece (FFP) masks,” deputy chair of the British Medical Association Dr Helen Fidler told the publication. She added concerns on other forms of PPE not being available in smaller sizes because they tend to be designed to the size and shape of male bodies.
Dr Fidler, a member of the BMA Council and practicing gastroenterologist, appealed to the government for smaller sized PPE items to be made for women, who are already putting their health at risk.
Around the world, nurses and other healthcare workers are working extended hours under exhaustive pressure and grueling conditions. This lack of appropriate PPE for women is not only compromising their ability to undertake the vital work they are doing, but also putting their health and safety at risk.
“One-size-fits-all protective equipment has been a problem for frontline healthcare workers who have to wear this specialist life-saving equipment for up to 12 hours at a time,” Royal College of Nursing advisor Rose Gallagher told The Independent, adding that the equipment can be so uncomfortable it creates friction. She also said nurses are being asked to resuse single-use equipment.
Poorly designed PPE is yet another example of the unremarkable, yet nefarious ways women are ignored while the male body continues to be centred as the default during the design process.
An ICU charge nurse told UK journalist Kristin Innes that her PPE is uncomfortable and ‘tightened to fit” her smaller body-size. “This is everyday sexism and it’s an absolute horror show already” she wrote in a WhatsApp message.
Last February writer and journalist Caroline Criado Perez published a book about the Gender-blindness insipidly working across almost industry on the planet. In her research for the book ‘Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men,’ she found that “doctors were misdiagnosing women because the symptoms of our heart attacks don’t conform to those of men. Women are more likely to die and more likely to be misdiagnosed.”
That’s one example, other examples regarding a world that’s been designed for men potentially putting more women at risk include crash test dummies long taking the male form, along with various forms of safety equipment.