The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust leads the way in the future of respirator fit testing


Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is widely used across the NHS.

From Doctors to nurses, physio therapists to healthcare assistants, all manner of front-line staff providing physical care to patients with respiratory infections may be required to wear RPE.

But with over 1 million people working in thousands of different roles across the UK Healthcare Sector, it’s not just the front-line staff that need RPE.

Departments such as Tissue Research, Biomedical Science, Histopathology, Mortuary Services, Estates and Maintenance all may require RPE for protecting staff against a wide range of respiratory hazards at some point in time.


At The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust, it’s no different. 

Employing around 4,500 members of staff, some 2,000 employees regularly require RPE to keep their respiratory systems safe and prevent the spread of infection.

With RPE playing such a pivotal role in the safety of employees, the Trust and its staff need to be assured that the respirators they use are effectively protecting them from the various hazards that they are faced with.

“At The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust, we take infection prevention and our employees’ health very seriously. As part of this we are constantly evaluating our respiratory protection programme, including the respirators accessible to staff and the way in which people are fit tested.”
Mark Jackson, Head of Health & Safety and Compliance (Estates)
The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust

Previously, the Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust had been conducting their RPE fit testing using the qualitative method, but with mixed results.

“While we were able to use the qualitative method effectively, it was far from ideal. Staff with colds couldn’t be tested, not everyone could taste the solution and the process itself was a significant investment in time for all staff involved. Not everyone would pass first time, and the process itself was quite daunting for some members of staff who felt claustrophobic in the qualitative fit test hoods.”

Looking to go above and beyond compliance in taking the Trusts’ respiratory health seriously, Mark explored an alternative fit testing solution – the quantitative method.

Following an informative demonstration by Full Support Healthcare of the PortaCount Quantitative Fit Testing Method we were impressed with how easy, accurate and quick the process was.”

 Unlike the qualitative test, the PortaCount machine does not rely on a challenge substance and the subject’s subjective sense of taste. Not only does this mean that the overall fit testing process is faster, as no sensitivity test takes place, it also means fewer people are unable to be tested – with colds and hay fever not effecting the results.

The latest models of PortaCount machine also feature timed step-by-step video instructions – minimising user/tester error and accidental voided tests.

With faster fit testing and fewer voided tests, we’ve seen a reduction in hours spent fit testing.”


The fit testing method, however, is only part of the equation.

Respirators come in different shapes and sizes to accommodate variations of peoples’ faces. If a tight-fitting respirator does not fit and form an effective seal around the breathing zone, it has the potential to leak contaminated air into the wearer’s lungs.

Most respirators on the market will fit between 50-70% of people; requiring organisations such as Rotherham to subsequently stock a large variety of different respirators.

Working with Full Support Healthcare, Rotherham NHS Trust standardised the vast majority of their respirator selection to the new Custom Fit Easimask FSM18.

Unlike other tight-fitting ffp3 respirators, the Custom Fit has a 360 built-in foam seal and pre-shaped nose bridge to reduce wearer error when donning and obtain a better, more consistent fit.

So far, Rotherham are now seeing over 90% of staff pass their fit tests first time using the new mask.

“With the majority of staff wearing the same respirator, we’ll be able to standardise our ordering process – resulting in fewer surplus orders. This way staff will be far less likely to accidentally put on a mask they’ve not been fit tested on.”

Through transitioning from the taste-based qualitative fit testing process to the scientific quantitative PortaCount method, The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust were able to efficiently improve their fit testing and effectively standardise their respirator selection. This has led to improved staff confidence and has saved the Trust both time and money.

“Despite the PortaCount’s initial set-up cost, by halving the length of staff time required for testing and reducing respirator wastage, we expect to see a cost saving by switching methods.”


For more information about PortaCount machines, the quantitative fit testing method and the Custom Fit Easimask, please get in touch on:
info@fullsupporthealthcare.com | 01933 672180