The advice, published on 23 July, says practices should aim to make all settings ‘COVID-secure’ - using social distancing, optimal hand hygiene, frequent surface decontamination and other measures.
However, it states that staff should wear masks where a COVID-19 secure environment ‘cannot be maintained’, while patients should be advised to wear a face covering.
The updated guidance comes as people in England are required to wear face coverings in shops and takeaways from 24 July.
Face mask rules
Earlier this month the BMA warned that face coverings should be mandatory for patients visiting GP practices amid a rapid rise in face-to-face consultations.
Face coverings have been mandatory in hospitals and on public transport since June, but in GP practices patients are simply advised to wear masks.
Updated PHE guidance says: 'Providers of primary and community health services should ensure that measures are in place so that all settings are, where practicable, COVID-secure, using social distancing, optimal hand hygiene, frequent surface decontamination, ventilation and other measures where appropriate.
'Where a setting cannot be delivered as COVID-19 secure through all other means, a local assessment may conclude that primary and community healthcare staff (both in clinical and non-clinical roles), when not otherwise required to use personal protective equipment, should wear a face mask; worn to prevent the spread of infection from the wearer.’
The advice adds that 'where a COVID-19 secure environment cannot be maintained, patients and members of the public entering primary and community healthcare premises should be advised to use face coverings in line with government advice'.
All practice staff will be expected to wear a Type l or Type ll face mask to 'prevent the spread of infection from the wearer'. But the guidance sayd Type IIR face masks can be worn as an alternative if ‘readily available’.
It stressed that extended use of face masks does not remove the need for other protective measures, such as social distancing.
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.