GPs do not want to further the spread of Covid infections by handing out ‘tenuous’ face mask exemptions, the chair of BMA Northern Ireland’s GP Committee has said.
Taking to Twitter last week, Dr Alan Stout also said GPs did not want ‘conflict’ with their patients regarding masks, which the ‘vast majority’ should wear.
He wrote: ‘Very important and to stress do NOT contact your GP for [a] letter.
‘We do not want to get into conflict with our patients (vast majority of whom should wear a mask), and do not want to become complicit in [the] spread of infection by providing any tenuous exemption.’
He received over a hundred replies to the tweet, the majority critical.
But he said: ‘The exemptions are actually pretty easy, we know most of them well in practice and could do proactively. It’s the others that create the difficulty (as you can see from my replies!)’
Since 27 December 2021 those exempt from wearing a face mask must be able to prove this to police or enforcement officers in Northern Ireland.
But Stout said that mask exemptions being dealt with through ‘the independent route’ is ‘ideal’, as is happening with many vaccine exemptions, meaning ‘the only ones that then come through GPs are those with terminal illness’.
The Department of Health in Northern Ireland backed this up in a statement released on the same day.
It advised the public: ‘Do not contact your GP for a letter of exemption. GPs are not providing this service and abuse of staff will not be tolerated.’
BMA Northern Ireland previously warned that GPs had reported a rise in the amount of patients and visitors not wearing a mask in primary care settings.
In England, the Government has said that ‘age, health or disability’ reasons for not wearing a face mask are not required to ‘routinely show any written evidence for this’.
It said: ‘This means that you do not need to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about your reason for not wearing a face covering.’
However, the Government in England has said it expects GPs and specialists to ‘clinically review’ each and every application for Covid vaccination exemptions.
At the BMA England LMCs conference in November, 84% of GPs said they would welcome non-compliance with Covid exemption certificates.