Regulations on whether patients should wear face masks in GP practices have not changed, the Department of Health has confirmed.
But they said visitors to primary care were covered by general advice to wear a face covering, on a voluntary basis, in enclosed spaces if social distancing is not possible.
As of today, regulations say all staff and visitors to hospitals must wear face masks at all times, but the DHSC said this does not apply to primary care.
The clarification comes after NHS England and Public Health England sparked widespread confusion among GPs by seemingly giving different advice, with NHS England having said last week that the new rules would extend to primary care.
However, GPs were confused when it could not back this up with guidance and as PHE only published guidance for hospital settings.
Management in Practice’s sister publication, Pulse, has since learned from various sources that NHS England wanted the guidance for GP practices but it had not yet been supported by PHE and the Government.
A DHSC spokesperson explained to Pulse that visitors to GP practices are only covered by the Government’s more general advice asking people to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible, which could extend to GP practices.
However they stressed that unlike the hospital guidance, wearing of face masks in GP practices is ‘not mandatory’.
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘From today all staff in hospitals in England will be provided with, and are expected to wear, surgical masks at all times. We have adequate supply to meet the increased demand, and yesterday over four million masks were delivered across England.
‘Outpatients and visitors should also wear a face covering throughout the duration of their stay, and in any other enclosed public spaces, such as on public transport and within GP surgeries or pharmacies.
‘This is an important step in reducing the spread of the virus amongst staff, patients and visitors.’
The BMA has called for compulsory face masks in GP practices following the Government’s announcement that they would be mandatory for staff and visitors in hospitals.
An NHS England spokesperson previously told Pulse that changes to regulations in GP practices would need to be subject to a PHE evidence review and a Government decision.