A vast majority of doctors – 91% – want face masks to remain compulsory in GP practices and other healthcare settings when Covid restrictions are lifted, a large BMA survey has revealed.
Out of almost 2,500 doctors who responded to the survey, 90% also thought masks should continue to be mandatory on public transport.
The news comes ahead of the Government’s final announcement regarding whether all legal restrictions can be lifted from next week (19 July), due later this afternoon.
In a briefing last week, Mr Johnson had said that while the legal requirement for wearing a mask is set to be removed from 19 July, ‘guidance will suggest where you might choose to do so’.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘If the Prime Minister does not continue to make mask wearing mandatory, we will see a sustained and even steeper rise in infection rates across the summer and beyond which will significantly impact on our NHS and result in more serious illness and hospitalisation – simply “expecting” people to wear one is not good enough and sends out a confusing mixed message to the public.’
Dr Nagpaul pointed out that this comes as the country has ‘soaring infection rates – the highest in Europe – which are already impacting the NHS’, with the number of people in hospital and on ventilators doubling in the last month.
‘Even a modest increase in the number of Covid-related hospitalisations places immense pressure on our overstretched health service trying to cope with a backlog of more than 5.3 million patients waiting for treatment,’ he said.
‘Doctors are clear in their desire to protect the public’s health and our NHS by proven measures to control spread of this deadly virus. They want to see the legal requirement for wearing of face coverings retained not just in enclosed public spaces but also for patients and visitors and staff in hospitals and GP surgeries as well as social care settings,’ he continued.
The BMA had already 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.
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.’
Commenting on Friday, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall also called for the continuation of face masks in GP settings.
He said in a statement: ‘We understand the drive to return to normal as soon as possible. And as GPs, who are at the forefront of caring for patients whose physical and mental health has been directly and indirectly impacted by lockdown restrictions, we see both sides of the argument.
‘But the safety of patients, and those delivering their care, must be paramount. This is why we are calling for the continued use of masks, and other appropriate infection control measures, in general practice settings post-19 July.’
The RCGP believes this ‘is a reasonable and proportionate response to rising case numbers’, Professor Marshall said, adding that it was also ‘essential that the Government produces clear guidance encouraging the public to continue to behave cautiously and use masks in crowded public places, where appropriate’.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said during last week’s briefing that he would continue to wear a mask, ‘particularly at this point when the epidemic is clearly significant and rising’.
He said the three scenarios he would use a face mask included indoors or crowded situations ‘because masks help protect other people, this is a thing we do to protect other people as it’s by far its principal aim’.
Another trigger for wearing a mask would be when asked to do so ‘by any competent authority’, he said – or lastly if it makes others feel less uncomfortable.
The BMA survey of doctors also found that, 86% think face masks should remain mandatory in social care settings. Some 78% also think face coverings should continue to be worn in shops; 68% in hospitality settings; and 66% for workplaces, like offices.
Doctors also strongly believe social distancing should continue including 78% saying it should be mandatory in healthcare settings; 75% in social care settings; and 75% backing distancing to continue on public transport.