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Independents' Day

Face coverings are not mandatory in GP practices, DHSC confirms

Exclusive Regulations on whether patients should wear face masks in GP practices have not changed, the Department of Health has confirmed.

But they said visitors to primary care were covered by general advice to wear a face covering, on a voluntary basis, in enclosed spaces if social distancing is not possible.

As of today, regulations say all staff and visitors to hospitals must wear face masks at all times, but the DHSC said this does not apply to primary care.

The clarification comes after NHS England and Public Health England sparked widespread confusion among GPs by seemingly giving different advice, with NHS England having said last week that the new rules would extend to primary care.

However, GPs were confused when it could not back this up with guidance and as PHE only published guidance for hospital settings.

Pulse has since learned from various sources that NHS England wanted the guidance for GP practices but it had not yet been supported by PHE and the Government.

A DHSC spokesperson explained to Pulse that visitors to GP practices are only covered by the Government's more general advice asking people to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible, which could extend to GP practices.

However they stressed that unlike the hospital guidance, wearing of face masks in GP practices is 'not mandatory'.

A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘From today all staff in hospitals in England will be provided with, and are expected to wear, surgical masks at all times. We have adequate supply to meet the increased demand, and yesterday over four million masks were delivered across England.

‘Outpatients and visitors should also wear a face covering throughout the duration of their stay, and in any other enclosed public spaces, such as on public transport and within GP surgeries or pharmacies.

‘This is an important step in reducing the spread of the virus amongst staff, patients and visitors.’ 

The BMA has called for compulsory face masks in GP practices following the Government's announcement that they would be mandatory for staff and visitors in hospitals.

An NHS England spokesperson previously told Pulse that changes to regulations in GP practices would need to be subject to a PHE evidence review and a Government decision.

Readers' comments (25)

  • phew! thats a relief! Could the BMA please relax on this issue.

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  • Probably just worked out there aren’t enough masks to go around given last weeks ‘one size fits all’ limits on PPE supplies to practices.

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  • This is pretty much hit the nail on the head. Multiple organisations giving conflicting advice and trying to micro manage general practice. I hoped covid was due to put a stop to this. It seems its made it worse

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  • Poor Primary Care - it really doesn't matter about all those non hospital appointments does it. Still, GPs handle only 0.9% of clinical encounters don't they? They don't? Oh. Well, how about this - all visitors to GPs will hold their breath for the entire consultation - and GPs will not speak at any point. Brilliant? And cheap. And sensible too.

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  • Does anyone know what they're doing or saying, except from the coal faced front line?

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  • Why are they mandatory on the underground and on the bus then? Outrageous!

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  • The same patient going to a hospital needs a mask but when they come to surgery they don't! really interesting. Either all GPs are immune to the virus or the patients do not transmit when they enter our premises.

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  • People say 'we follow the science'. 'Science will save us all'. Trouble is the scientists on groups like SAGE do not all agree, and some voices don't get heard. So what does government do? In my humble opinion, after this length of time we need to have different types of scientist giving good advice, like Social Scientists, who are more likely to look at the overall gains in getting children back to school and getting people back to work and the economy running, urgently. Without the economy
    there will not be the money for public services like Schools, Police, importantly NHS, and so on. Jobs will be lost, more ill-health and deaths from all causes. Probably people like Prof Robert Dingwall of Nottingham Trent University, have the right answer: Social scientist. Government, and doctors, do not prevaricate. Soon no jobs, soon no money, soon no NHS. Other countries are doing all they can to open schools, jobs and the wider economy.

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  • Vinci Ho

    (1) Interestingly , the issue has turned out to be a matter of vocabulary: ‘They must.....’ against ‘ They should’ as far as a public heath crisis is concerned.
    (2) I can live with the logical argument of ‘ one size cannot fit all ‘ . But one would argue what is the evidence to support secondary care is a ‘Must’ and primary care is a ‘should’ ?The only condition here for debating is ‘when social distancing is not possible’ . Hence , have we already arrived at the conclusion that social distancing ( and vigilant cleansing , I would insist ) is NOT possible in hospitals but possible in general practice? Of course , that also justifies less PPE ‘can’ be provided to primary care centrally ??
    (3)Then it is how this government has been ‘processing’ science to make judgements so far in this crisis , i.e. the track record for credibility. I would not blame the scientists as they are always carrying the baggage of living in the summit of an ivory tower . It is always about the leadership of a country to bridge the gap between complex knowledge( and layman public awareness . Yes , some kind of ‘gambling’ might be necessary but at a historic point like this , we need audacious and visionary leaders , not firefighting and pen-pushing technocrats( with only blind boldness to defend own reputation ) .

    And I would stick to my argument that being pedantic is quintessentially part of the defence against an unprecedented enemy which we still yet to fully understand.

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  • Vinci Ho

    ....which we are yet to fully understand......

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