This site is intended for health professionals only

The mask slips (and is then put on again)

I’ve said from the start that I don’t envy the jobs of the public health decision makers. We have a novel virus, a lack of data, we haven’t got the luxury of proper evidence-based decision making and any decision is fraught with risk.

But even with all that in mind, the advice around face masks in general practice has been a bit of a mess. Yes, they are mandatory. But only for staff. And for patients too. But not mandatory mandatory.

The muddled messaging is helping no one

I do understand that the case in favour of or against facemasks in the GP practice hasn’t yet been made. There are a number of factors to consider. How much does a consultation lose when you take away full face-to-face contact? Is this worth the reduction in risk that facemasks afford? I don’t know the answers to these questions.

But the muddled messaging is helping no one. There has been sloppy language (what does ’should’ mean in this context?), links in the guidance to more guidance that links to other guidance, and the standard tight deadline thrown in for good measure.

The current guidance is that they are not mandatory for anyone, but anyone in enclosed spaces – such as GP practices – ‘should’ (as in, are advised to) wear them. Although whether that’s the case next week, we don’t know.

I don’t think any GP would begrudge a message that says: ‘Unlike in hospitals, we haven’t got convincing evidence either way for whether facemasks in GP practices will improve outcomes. Therefore, is up to individual practices to decide what policy they wish to implement.’

But this would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at