According to Section 53 of the Adult Support & Protection (Scotland) Act 2007: “Harm includes all harmful conduct and in particular, includes, conduct which causes physical harm and conduct which causes psychological harm (for example: by causing fear, alarm or distress).”
On November 2nd 2022, the Daily Sceptic published my article which set out the steps leading to the removal of routine mask-wearing in social care settings in Scotland. The Daily Sceptic titled the article, “Scottish Government finally admits that mask-wearing is harmful.” The article has been shared thousands of times on social media, attracting the attention of fact-checkers who asserted that the Government did not deem masks were harmful. A Scottish Government spokesperson told fact-checkers at Reuters that the article was a “gross distortion of what the Government has said”. He or she also stated that the guidance was “relaxed in line with the latest clinical advice after a sharp drop in infections and a reduction of severity of illness”.
Clinical advice most likely played a part, but the guidance was updated on September 7th in direct response to the recommendations made at the round table meeting on August 16th, which I attended, where stakeholders met with key Government officials. Harms caused by mask-wearing to both users and providers of social care were clearly identified in a position statement which was shared with Government ministers in advance of the guidance being updated and published. We discussed and agreed on physical harms resulting from the detrimental impact of masks on quality of care and provision of person centred care, especially for those in the advanced stages of dementia. We also shared grave concerns in relation to psychological harms, mainly distress, caused to those with cognitive and sensory impairments.
In the introduction to the updated guidance and repeated in the guidance itself, Kevin Stewart, Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing states: “The guidance balances the risk of harm from COVID-19 with the impact masks can have on communication, mental wellbeing and rights and choices of those working in and using social care services.” He goes on to say that removing the need for masks “will make communication and relationships easier in care settings, benefitting mental health and promoting the rights and choices of those working in and using social care”.
Mr. Stewart (and the guidance document) make reference to the risk of harm from Covid being balanced with the impact of masks on health, mental wellbeing and communication. Impact should be prefixed with ‘detrimental’ and therefore clearly identified as harm, consistent with the reference to harm from COVID-19. If masks are not causing harm, why would removing them benefit communication, health and mental wellbeing?
Recent updates to the guidance documents for both health and social care settings give increased attention to individual risk assessments for both users and providers of care, which equates to the recognition and necessary management of potential harms associated with mask-wearing.
Far from being “a gross distortion of what the Government said”, the claim that routine mask-wearing causes harm to both users and providers of social care services is acknowledged by the Scottish Government, as a direct result of our round table discussion with key Government officials and made perfectly clear in the guidance document.
We’re all working together to support and protect the most vulnerable people in our communities, which begs the question, why would a Government spokesperson support this fact check and seek to discredit the grounds for a welcome and long overdue policy decision that has protected thousands of individuals from unnecessary harm? Not to mention the insult to my personal integrity and professional credibility.
Valerie Nelson is an independent Mental Health Trainer and Consultant.