All practice staff recommended to wear surgical face masks

All staff in primary care will be recommended to wear surgical face masks from next Monday (15 June), according to a letter from NHS England.

(Photo: John Gomez Pix/Getty Images)
(Photo: John Gomez Pix/Getty Images)

The letter sent to GP practices and all NHS providers in England on Tuesday (9 June) said that Public Health England will be producing guidance on the recommendation this week.

The letter said: 'As announced by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, from the 15 June, the recommendation will be that all staff in hospital wear a surgical face mask when not in PPE or in a part of the facility that is COVID-secure... The guidance will also apply to other NHS healthcare settings, including primary care.'

'We therefore ask that you make the necessary changes to implement that advice and help reduce any further risks of transmission, by 15 June at the latest,' the letter added.

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.

Rules for patients

Earlier this week the BMA said that all patients visiting surgeries should be required to wear face masks or face coverings to match hospital rules. However it is unclear from this latest letter whether the recommendations on face masks in primary care will extend to cover patients as well.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'The BMA is clear that the latest rules around face coverings and hospitals must be extended to cover all health and social care settings, including general practice.

'So this recommendation for all staff to wear masks is a step in the right direction and we await the guidance from Public Health England. However, it’s crucial that patients also wear face coverings when attending practices, as they are being told to in hospitals, in order to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

'As we have said, there must be a consistent approach that reflects our integrated health service and is not confusing for the public.

'It is also vital that the supplies of medical masks in general practice are guaranteed to support this move and that the public are clear about the type of face covering they need and how to wear it. These measures are vital if we are to protect patients, the NHS workforce and the nation’s health.'

PPE concerns

Earlier this week, a GPonline poll revealed that almost three quarters of GP partners are concerned about how to keep colleagues safe as numbers of patients attending practices return to pre-pandemic levels. Access to PPE was a major concern for practices, with only 29% of partners they were confident that the government would be able to supply adequate PPE.

The letter sent to practices on Tuesday also set out recommendations for practices following the introduction of NHS Test and Trace, which could see more staff required to self isolate if they are identified as having been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 while away from work.

Practices have been asked to review existing business continuity plans and inform their commissioner as soon as possible if their service may be compromised due to staff absence.

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