A GP Writes: NHS Chiefs Should Stop Insisting Patients Wear Masks

There follows a guest post by an NHS GP.

Seeing the crowds of people celebrating the jubilee weekend you would be forgiven for thinking that the country has moved on from Covid and the associated ‘corona-panic. That is unless you step inside an NHS facility and are met with a sea of masked faces. But why should this still be? On May 27th the infection prevention and control guidance for primary and community healthcare providers was quietly withdrawn. This was followed up by an open letter to NHS trusts and CCG’s on June 1st advising that “health and care staff are in general not required to wear facemasks” and that “patients are not required to wear a facemask unless this is a personal preference”.

Whilst some NHS trusts have communicated this change to their staff and patients, others seem to be deliberately keeping quiet on the matter. The Medical Director of my local CCG has diligently communicated all previous updates since the start of the pandemic and yet this particular update seems to have slipped under his radar and I am still waiting for it to be included in his regular briefing. I know from colleagues working in secondary care that the same is true for some hospital trusts as well. Why does the NHS persist in the theatre of mask wearing when the evidence is overwhelming that they do not prevent viral transmission but are associated with numerous harms? Perhaps now that the change in guidance is being reported by mainstream news outlets the tide may start to turn.

My advice to patients or visitors to NHS facilities would be to smile – it has been too long without that very human interaction.

Stop Press: A number of NHS trusts are not simply failing to pass on this new guidance, but actively insisting that patients keep wearing masks despite the instructions to drop the rules. The Telegraph has more.

National coronavirus guidance which insisted on face coverings has now been scrapped, with health officials leaving it to local organisations to draft their own policies.

However, several hospitals have called on patients and staff to continue to wear masks and face coverings on their sites.

In a letter to all local health bodies, NHS England highlighted new infection control guidance set out by the UK Health Security Agency.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has repeatedly called on NHS trusts to drop restrictions in hospitals which are limiting operational capacity. Last month, he threatened to name and shame hospitals that do not lift social distancing measures and restrictions on visitors.

A letter from health chiefs said that patients visiting accident and emergency (A&E) departments, hospital outpatient appointments and GP surgeries no longer needed to wear masks “unless this is a personal preference”.

Hospitals have now begun issuing guidance for their local communities, with a number saying they intend to keep insisting on people wearing masks.
The Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS trust issued a notice to patients and staff saying: “We are still asking patients, visitors, staff and anyone working at one of our hospital or community sites to continue to wear a mask, gel hands and social distance while in our buildings despite the lifting of national restrictions.

“This is to keep vulnerable people as safe as possible.”

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September 2022
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