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BMA will support GP practices that continue requesting patients wear masks

face masks in GP practices

The BMA has said it ‘will support’ any GP practice that continues to ask patients and staff to wear face masks.

NHS England updated its guidance earlier this month to say that patients who enter GP practices in England are no longer required to wear a face mask unless they have respiratory symptoms.

But the BMA said that practices must be ‘able to exercise discretion’ to protect patients and staff.

Its latest GP bulletin said: ‘People who come to GP practices are more likely to be ill or clinically vulnerable, so it’s vital that practices are able to exercise discretion to protect patients and staff. 

‘Especially in the context of rising abuse towards practice staff, people must be assured that if practices are asking them to continue wearing masks this is for the safety of everyone in the building.’

It added: ‘The BMA will support practices and doctors who continue to ask patients and staff to wear face masks where they feel this is necessary.’

The BMA also said local risk assessments for staff coming into contact with Covid are ‘particularly important now that the requirement for social distancing and mask wearing is no longer obligatory’.

It added: ‘It is still the employer’s responsibility to ensure safe working for staff, and thus a risk assessment should still be carried out and appropriate mitigations.’

The BMA has revised its guidance on Covid risk assessments for GP practices, which said that practices ‘might be vulnerable if their risk assessment does not include Covid-19 whilst prevalence remains significant’ due to these legal obligations.

It set out various examples of risk scenarios, including that GPs conducting face-to-face consultations in a ‘small poorly ventilated room’ and receptionists working with no partition and/or ‘inadequate or uncertain’ ventilation remain at ‘high risk’.

Suggested control measures included:

  • Introducing virtual consultations and having certain staff working from home, conducting ‘as many consultations as possible remotely’
  • Considering video-conference staff meetings rather than face-to-face even when all participants are in the building
  • Continued triage and ‘cohorting’ 
  • Testing or screening of patients and staff
  • Social distancing of patients and staff with one-way systems
  • Using respiratory protective equipment (RPE) such as FFP3 for employees in high-risk scenarios and at least FFP2 for those in medium-risk scenarios 

However, the guidance added that practices ‘will need to review those mitigations that potentially reduce the standard of care, such as limiting face-to-face consultations, once the disease prevalence decreases’.

And it said they should ‘be aware of other direct implications’ such as staff burnout, increased costs from locum support and PPE procurement and ‘reduced QOF compliance’.

It added: ‘The legal requirement to reduce risk to as low as reasonably practicable acknowledges that there is a balance between what could reduce risk and what is practicable.’

NHS England’s updated guidance said patients, apart from those with respiratory symptoms, are ‘not required’ to wear a face mask unless they wish to as a ‘personal preference’.

Practice staff should continue to wear face masks as part of PPE when working with suspected or confirmed Covid patients, including those working with untriaged patients, under the guidance.

It also said that in non-clinical areas such as offices and social settings, staff do not need to wear masks unless it is their personal preference or if there are issues raised by risk assessments.

Any IPC measures beyond the updated guidance are a matter for ‘local discretion’, it added.

READERS' COMMENTS [5]

Patrufini Duffy 21 June, 2022 12:14 pm

We can handle it. Put a mask on, there’s a box there for free. Or wait here in the courtyard. Employment law – protect staff first. Nanny second.

Nick Mann 21 June, 2022 4:23 pm

NHSE’s nonsensical ‘guidance’ cannot be anything other than a red hot poker stoking the freedom tribe’s culture war with doctors.
Either Covid is a health risk or it’s not. By nature of the job, higher risk of patients coming through being low-, pre- or a-symptomatic Covid +ve. Filling consulting rooms with sequential patients’ aerosols multiplies risk of unmasked patients getting Covid, so the guidance actively puts patients at risk.
The GP’s mask IPC effect will be weakened a lot by the large amount of virions from an unmasked mouth, so GP mask-wearing more likely to be ineffective under the ‘guidance’.
Totally made-up non-science, so one has to ask what the point of it is. The ‘guidance’, published just after the media had reported that violence against GPs has doubled, will mainly serve to legitimise further violence against GPs asking patients to continue to wear masks; and it will serve to spread a serious disease further amongst vulnerable patients.
Are we dancer?

Neil Tallant 21 June, 2022 6:46 pm

Sorry but it is about time General Practice moved on a bit and left the BMA dinosaur behind. Did we ever insist on mask wearing with Flu epidemics??

Dave Haddock 23 June, 2022 11:32 am

Most of us gave up on the mask nonsense many months ago.

Any chance of the BMA doing something useful?