Recommendations for wearing face masks in GP practices will not be lifted before spring next year at the earliest, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.
Updated infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance said the measures surrounding face-coverings are likely to remain ‘until at least March/April 2022’.
The guidance was also broadened yesterday to include other respiratory infections flu and RSV as well as Covid-19.
The high, medium and low risk care pathways for Covid-19 have now been removed, to ensure everyone without symptoms of a respiratory infection will follow uniform precautions, such as ‘at least one metre physical distancing instead of two metres’.
However, pathways ‘should be defined locally’ and can be reintroduced in the event of high case rates.
Where there are patients with suspected or confirmed respiratory infections being cared for, physical distancing should remain at two metres, the guidance states.
The update comes as UKHSA dropped social distancing requirements from two metres to one metre for GP practices last month, as part of a bid to improve access to GPs.
GPs around the UK have urged patients to continue wearing masks when visiting practices to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.
Meanwhile, the Government is considering extending its free PPE scheme for GPs for a further 12 months. The scheme is currently due to close at the end of March 2022.
Key updates to infection control practices
- Removal of the three Covid-19 risk pathways (high, medium and low), but local areas can still choose to apply the pathways if appropriate.
- Social distancing should be at least one metre, increasing to two metres ‘whenever feasible’ across all health and care settings.
- Social distancing remains at two metres around patients with suspected or confirmed respiratory infections.
- Screening, triaging and testing for Covid-19 should continue.
- Establishment of a hierarchy of measures, with personal protective equipment (PPE) considered the ‘least effective’, in order:
- Elimination (physically remove the hazard), such as by screening, isolation, delaying care
- Substitution, i.e. remote consulting rather than face-to-face
- Engineering controls including ventilation and screens
- Administrative controls, such as scheduling appointments to separate Covid and non-Covid patients
- For any aerosol generating procedures (AGPs), only necessary staff, wearing airborne PPE and/or respiratory protective equipment (RPE), must be present.