The government announced on 5 June that all staff in hospitals would be required to wear surgical-grade masks from 15 June, with members of the public visiting hospitals also expected to wear face coverings ‘at all times’.
The advice followed evidence from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) that face coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus by people who are not showing symptoms.
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul has warned that rules on face coverings should also be adopted in GP practices to ensure consistency throughout healthcare settings.
Masks in primary care
The government must urgently clarify what type of covering members of the public would be required to wear, the BMA chair said. He called for ongoing concerns about ‘availability of medical masks in general practice’ to be tackled as ‘a matter of urgency’.
Dr Nagpaul said: ‘The newly announced face-covering measures in hospitals must also be extended to cover GP surgeries and other health, community and social care settings.
‘As this virus knows no boundaries, it is important that there is consistency around face coverings that applies throughout healthcare settings, reflective of the integrated healthcare system we have.’
‘While many GP practices have taken major steps to reduce face-to-face consultations, encouraging patients to wear a face covering when attending a practice will help further protect staff and patients.'
NHS staff are already advised to wear face masks in clinical areas within two metres of a patient, but the updated guidance will apply to staff in all areas of the hospital at all times.
Dr Nagpaul said he was extremely concerned about a reported lack of consultation between the government and NHS trusts about new face-covering measures.
Trust leaders have reported being left in the dark about the new measures, which present complex changes to ways of working. The BMA chair urged the government to be forthcoming with details of future plans in general practice.
Dr Nagpaul, himself a north London GP, added: ‘The government must ensure that there are sufficient supplies of medical masks across all healthcare settings and be very clear with the public about what type of covering they need, how they need to wear it and where they need to get this from.'
Last month a BMA survey found that over two thirds of GPs have had to rely on PPE that they have bought themselves or had donated during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The government insists that it has adequate stocks of masks to meet demand and continues to pursue contracts for additional stock.