This site is intended for health professionals only

Patients should be legally required to wear face masks in practices, say staff

by Eleanor Philpotts
10 August 2020

Share this article

Over eight out of 10 (84%) of members of the Medical Protection Society thinks a face covering should be mandatory when attending any healthcare setting.

This was the finding of a survey including 562 of the GP indemnity providers’ members, out of which 473 said masks should be mandated by law as they are on public transport and in shops.

Effective from 13 July, PHE guidance says all clinical and non-clinical staff as well as patients should wear a face mask in areas of GP practices that cannot be made ‘Covid-secure’ through social distancing, optimal hand hygiene, frequent surface decontamination, ventilation and other measures.

But NHS England has said GPs cannot refuse to treat patients who present at the practice without a face covering because they are not legally required to wear them.

In response to its member survey, MPS has urged political leaders to ‘reconsider’ this decision.

Medicolegal lead for risk prevention Dr Pallavi Bradshaw stressed that ‘it cannot be right’ for frontline healthcare workers to be put at ‘unnecessary risk by patients who refuse to wear a face mask’

She said: ‘The strength of feeling on this issue is clear – valid exemptions aside, healthcare workers believe it should be mandatory for those attending a healthcare facility to wear a face covering. This would seem in keeping with the other settings where the new rules are legally enforceable.

‘While most patients are wearing face coverings, we have had members seeking advice on how to handle situations where patients refuse to wear a mask without a valid reason – these situations can be confrontational and distressing to other patients.’

The Government is facing increased pressure to make coverings mandatory in medical environments, since from last weekend (8 August), they must also be worn in places of worship, cinemas, museums and libraries.

Dr Bradshaw said: ‘The exclusion of healthcare settings in the latest extension of the law will leave many healthcare workers, who are still under immense pressure due to the pandemic, feeling that their safety is not a priority.

‘We know many are concerned about the risk they pose to their families owing to their role and these fears remain if the work environment is not the safest it could possibly be.’