US Vice-President Elect, Kamala Harris, has inspired a research team led by Professor Gurch Randhawa from University of Bedfordshire and Dr Rajinder Pal Singh to promote an innovative beard covering technique, called ‘Singh Thattha’, which enables bearded individuals to wear a respirator mask without the need for shaving.
A problem faced by many BAME professionals in the healthcare industry, this technique will also enable hospital staff the ability to wear mandatory respirator masks over a beard when caring for Covid-19 patients – something which US Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris previously raised concerns about.
Gurch Randhawa, Professor of Diversity in Public Health at the University of Bedfordshire said: “Because shaving was a mandatory pre-requisite for wearing respirator masks, many members of the faith-observant bearded community, such as Sikh, Jewish and Muslim, have been affected and have had to face the dilemma of redeployment from frontline healthcare jobs involving exposure to Covid-19.
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"Redeployment to other areas incurs a loss of skillset and need for re-training, and junior doctors have had their training impacted.
“In 2005, a similar situation had arisen, when a faith-observant bearded Sikh gentleman was denied the position of a corrections officer in California as the job required staff to occasionally wear a respirator mask.
“In both of these scenarios, the common theme was that the beard was considered to be an impediment to the wearing of a respirator mask. The other common principle was the concern for the health and safety of the employee. There was no alternative choice – or maybe, it was unexplored.”
Stimulated by this predicament, in the midst of the first Covid-19 peak in the UK, a transplant surgeon from Manchester, Dr Rajinder Pal Singh, came up with a novel idea of using an under-mask beard cover called ‘Thattha’ to allow him to wear an FFP3 respirator mask which ended up passing the NHS qualitative Fit Test.
This pioneering technique was named the ‘Singh Thattha’ Technique.
Dr Singh said: “Respirator masks are the ideal respiratory protective equipment (RPE) for protection from small virus particles such as Covid-19, as well as from industrial toxic gases and smoke.
"In the current pandemic, for safety reasons, these masks are mandatory for healthcare workers exposed to aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) involving Covid-19.
"Wearing these masks requires a person to be clean-shaven to allow for a robust face-mask seal. There is no evidence to suggest why, instead of shaving, the facial hair factor cannot be overcome with an under-mask beard cover.’’
This initial trial meant that there now appeared to be a choice – that shaving may not be essential to don a respirator mask. However, the technique needed reproducibility in order for the process to be established and declared safe.
Professor Randhawa was invited to partner with Dr Singh to address this culturally competent solution and proceed in an in-depth study of this promising alternative.
The duo also teamed up with a group of co-authors for the study – Dr Sukhpal Singh Gill, Dr Sukhdev Singh, Dr B S Ubhi, Dr Gaggandeep Singh Alg, Dr H S Safri and Dr Gurpreet Singh.
Over the past few months, the team have collaborated to evaluate the efficacy of the Singh Thattha technique. The study findings showed that, 25/27 bearded Sikh dentists had been able to pass the qualitative Fit Test using the under-mask beard cover.
Professor Gurch Randhawa added: “I was honoured to be part of this research team – I feel it’s my duty to help to the health and care workforce from all faith communities in their efforts to look after Covid-19 patients.
"I believe the pioneering work of Dr Singh will prove to be an exemplar of culturally competent practice, enabling staff from all faiths to look after their patients without having to remove their beards and change their identity.”
To read the full report and discover how to re-create the ‘Singh Thattha’ technique yourself, visit: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019567012030459X.