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PHE: GPs, staff and patients should wear masks if practices not ‘Covid secure’

by Sofia Lind
24 July 2020

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GPs, all clinical and non-clinical staff as well as patients should wear a face mask in practices if a local assessment concludes that it is necessary, according to new Public Health England guidance.

The update, published yesterday but effective from 13 July, said that in the first instance practices should ensure that they are ‘Covid-secure’ through social distancing, optimal hand hygiene, frequent surface decontamination, ventilation and other measures.

However, where this is not possible, there will be a ‘local assessment’ to determine where staff should wear masks at all times.

PHE said that the advice in GP practices now mirrors that in hospitals, which was announced in June. This means that there is no law that mandates the wearing of masks, unlike in shops and public transport.

There has been widespread confusion around whether staff and patients should be wearing face masks.

But the new guidance said: ‘Providers of primary and community health services should ensure that measures are in place so that all settings are, where practicable, Covid-secure, using social distancing, optimal hand hygiene, frequent surface decontamination, ventilation and other measures where appropriate.

‘Where a setting cannot be delivered as Covid-19 secure through all other means, a local assessment may conclude that primary and community healthcare staff (both in clinical and non-clinical roles), when not otherwise required to use personal protective equipment, should wear a face mask; worn to prevent the spread of infection from the wearer’. 

For all staff, ‘the recommendation is for a Type l or Type ll face mask worn to prevent the spread of infection from the wearer’. But ‘Type IIR face masks are more readily available, and there are no supply issues for their use as personal protective equipment, then these can be used as an alternative to Type I or Type II masks’, PHE said.

Meanwhile, ‘patients and members of the public’ can wear a face covering in line with the Government’s general advice, including home-made masks.

The guidance said: ‘Where a COVID-19 secure environment cannot be maintained, patients and members of the public entering primary and community healthcare premises should be advised to use face coverings in line with government advice.’

The news comes as GPs had been left confused last month after PHE and NHS England gave seemingly different advice regarding masks in practices. 

It is understood that NHS England wanted the advice to also cover GP practices, but the Government has kept this under review until now, while referring to existing general guidance regarding face masks in enclosed spaces.

The BMA has called for face masks to become mandatory in GP practices, as well as all settings where social distancing is not possible. 

However, the RCGP said yesterday that while it would ‘strongly encourage’ patients to wear a mask when visiting GP practices, mandatory use ‘may have unintended consequences’.

A version of this story was first published by our sister title Pulse.