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GP practices threatened with legal action for asking patients to wear a face covering

GP practices threatened with legal action for asking patients to wear a face covering

Exclusive GPs have been threatened with legal action by patients who object to being asked to wear a face covering in their practice, Pulse has learned.

The BMA said the claims for financial compensation attempt to ‘coerce GPs into breaking public health safeguards’ and put both staff and patients at risk.

It comes as the Prime Minister announced last week that it will no longer be a legal requirement for patients to wear face masks in GP practices or any other setting from 19 July if the step four easing goes ahead – which is set to be confirmed today.

The legal requirement will be replaced with guidance that ‘will suggest where you might choose’ to wear a mask, he said.

Current Public Health England guidance outlining the legal requirements around masks states: ‘Face coverings are needed in NHS settings, including hospitals and primary or community care settings, such as GP surgeries.’

The measure was first introduced in June 2020 when face coverings were made compulsory for hospitals and the rule was extended to GP practices – although some exemptions apply.

But the BMA has told Pulse that it has heard ‘a number of reports’ of practices being threatened with legal action for asking patients to wear a face covering.

BMA GP Committee deputy chair Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said: ‘We have received a number of reports of practices being threatened with actions under the Equalities Act from solicitors representing people who have objected to being asked to wear a face covering to attend their surgery.’

He added that it is ‘difficult to see how such claims for financial redress could be justified’ under the Act and that they ‘have the appearance of attempting to coerce GPs into breaking public health safeguards and therefore putting themselves, their staff and other patients at risk’.  

Dr Sanford-Wood said: ‘These actions have the appearance of using the Equalities Act for a purpose for which it was clearly not intended and are a direct threat to reasonable public health measures designed to save lives.’

The BMA is considering how it can support practices in their response the claims, he added.

GPs have been warning since May that many Covid-symptomatic patients are attending face-to-face appointments having only had a negative rapid lateral flow test (LFT), putting GPs and staff at risk.

In August, NHS England said practices should ‘risk assess’ any patients who refuse to wear a mask and that it would ‘fully support’ them in deciding to only provide care via a remote appointment. It had previously said that practices cannot refuse to treat patients who will not wear a face covering.

Meanwhile, despite Mr Johnson’s plan for mandatory mask-wearing to be dropped, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said he would wear one ‘particularly at this point when the epidemic is clearly significant and rising’.

He said that he would wear a face mask in certain scenarios, including in indoors and crowded situations or when asked to do so ‘by any competent authority’.

The BMA has called for the Government to keep some ‘targeted’ measures in place when wider restrictions lift – including the requirement to wear a mask in healthcare settings and on public transport.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

David jenkins 12 July, 2021 12:01 pm

presmably these same patients are refusing to wear masks when they attend hospital ?

David Church 12 July, 2021 12:15 pm

GP practices, like shops, are Private businesses and can impose such rules where they have a ‘duty’ to, and it is necessary for, the protection of staff and other patients – who might themselves fall into any ‘protected characteristic’ group too, apart from ‘covid non-believers’, which is NOT a protected characteristic.
In case they had not noticed, there is a current pandemic. They are lucky to have any access to medical care. Patients in many parts of the world do not. And many health care workers in GB have died, so their right to life has been wrongfully taken from them.

Vinci Ho 12 July, 2021 1:12 pm

Sue my arse 👿
Be my guest 😈

Bob Hodges 12 July, 2021 1:42 pm

I’m taking my lead from Chris Whitty, who said that he would continue to wear masks under certain circumstances which included ‘when asked to do so by any competent authority’.

I reserve the reight to regard myself, and my collegaues, as a ‘competent authority’. Any registered patients who do not regards us as such are displaying cognitive dissonance of Darwinian proportions if they are engaging with us whilst beliving us not to be competent.

Also, its an existential business continuity issue if 20% of my team of 140 people are off at one time with even a mild COVID-19 infection. In other words, if someone chooses to come to us and transmit their illness in my building, then others (including babies will probably die because there’s no capacity to deliver urgent healthcare.

There’s no SMOMED code for ‘hurty feelings’, which is presumably the diagnosis that these compo-seekers are angling for.

Patrufini Duffy 12 July, 2021 2:22 pm

By law, you must protect your staff. The rest is the small whiny British self-entitled.

Nick Mann 12 July, 2021 3:32 pm

Absolutely essential that BMA now seek explicit assurance from NHSE that all such claims will be covered by Crown indemnity.

Dave Haddock 12 July, 2021 6:53 pm

Anyone daft enough to pick this fight with their patients deserves everything that happens to them.

Bob Hodges 13 July, 2021 2:15 pm

Anyone daft enough to pick this pick with their GP, won’t have a GP for very long, and deserves everything that happens to them.

I’ve always found that the best way to serve my own interests was to piss off anyone I was expecting to help me, especially where I am releiant on them actually giving a shit about me and probably going beyond their contractual obligation to help me. This is especially true where I can make an ostentetious ‘point of (objectively wrong) principle’ into the margain, especially if its about my ‘rights’. Not.

terry sullivan 14 July, 2021 8:05 pm

gps are wrong

Malcolm Kendrick 15 July, 2021 8:40 am

Presumably all GPS and their staff, who have all been double vaccinated, will not be having any social interactions outside of work. No visits to pubs or restaurants, or gyms, or concerts, or. visiting friends or… pretty much anything. Of, they will ensure that everyone around them always wears a mask?

Or, perhaps, wearing a mask in a healthcare setting provides a unique setting for viral transmission that cannot happen anywhere else?

I call this the Maginot line strategy. Build your defences half way along the border then the dastardly Germans cannot possible invade. ‘Oh, hold on…’

Roger Boyle 15 July, 2021 11:10 am

Isn’t GP independent status a great thing!!!

Janet Neve 16 July, 2021 1:47 pm

What you are certainly more likely to have in a healthcare setting are vulnerable people ( e.g. immunosuppressed etc) and ill people with symptoms which may be covid who have managed to get through your triage. Is asking patients to wear a mask for a short time o protect the first group really so unreasonable?

Mark Davis 17 July, 2021 2:57 pm

Another example of one person’s ‘rights’ taking away another person’s rights.