Mandatory face covering in GP practices vital as face-to-face contacts rise, warns BMA

Face coverings should be mandatory for patients visiting GP practices amid a rapid rise in face-to-face consultations, the BMA has warned, after the government confirmed new rules for shops from 24 July do not extend to primary care.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock confirmed this week that from 24 July face coverings will be mandatory for people visiting shops and supermarkets.

Face coverings are already mandatory in hospitals and on public transport and GP practices are currently in the same category as shops - where wearing a face covering is recommended, but not a requirement. But rules for practices will not change as part of the new requirements in shops.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the change should apply in general practice now - particularly in light of a 'rapid rise' in face-to-face consultations in primary care.

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Face-to-face GP consultations up 70% since start of lockdown

GPonline revealed this week that face-to-face GP consultations in the week beginning 29 June were up more than 70% compared with the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Dr Vautrey said: 'The BMA believes that face coverings should be worn whenever physical distancing is not possible to help reduce the spread of infection.

'Last month, hospitals were told that face coverings were expected to be worn by staff, visitors and outpatients, and at that time we called for similar requirements to apply to all other healthcare settings, including GP surgeries, not least as we are seeing a rapid increase in face-to-face consultations taking place in practices.

'A face covering is obviously not an alternative to handwashing and good personal hygiene, but an additional step that should be taken to minimise the virus being passed on when social distancing cannot occur.

COVID-19 pandemic

'This is especially important when we know that COVID-19 is still spreading outside of hospitals and that people working in GP surgeries are potentially vulnerable to higher levels of transmission. GPs and their teams are doing all they can to minimise this risk, but we need patients to be on board as well.

'This pandemic is far from over, and so we need to do more to protect people not only in shops, public transport and hospitals, but also community healthcare settings such as general practice and the government should take this action, as well as ensuring surgeries have all the protective equipment they need.'

Mr Hancock told parliament on 14 July that anyone failing to wear a face covering in a shop once the rules take effect 'will face a fine of up to £100, in line with the sanction on public transport'.

Children under 11 and people with certain disabilities will be exempt, but in cases where people without an exemption refuse to wear a face covering, shops can 'refuse them entry and can call the police', the health and social care secretary said.

Although the new regulations being put in place for shops and supermarkets do not cover GP practices, the DHSC has not ruled out making face coverings mandatory in future in primary care premises - making clear that the rules remain under review.

The BMA has criticised the government's decision to delay rolling out mandatory face covering rules in shops until 24 July - warning failure to act sooner will endanger lives.

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