The BMA has said it will support GP practices that continue to ask patients and staff to wear face masks.
NHS England guidance was updated earlier this month to say that patients are no longer required to wear a face mask when they enter GP surgeries unless they wish to as a ‘personal preference’.
The only exception is when patients have respiratory symptoms.
It said that practice staff should continue to wear face masks as part of PPE when working with suspected or confirmed Covid patients, including those working with untriaged patients.
It also said that in non-clinical areas such as offices and social settings, staff do not need to wear masks unless it is their personal preference or if there are issues raised by risk assessments.
Any IPC measures beyond the updated guidance are a matter for ‘local discretion’, it added.
But the BMA said that practices must be ‘able to exercise discretion’ to protect patients and staff.
In its latest GP bulletin, the BMA said it was vital that practices were able to exercise discretion to protect patients and staff, especially as many people entering surgeries were likely to be ill or clinically vulnerable.
It said that in the context of rising abuse towards practice staff, people must be assured that if practices are asking them to continue wearing masks it is for the safety of everyone in the building.
It added: ‘The BMA will support practices and doctors who continue to ask patients and staff to wear face masks where they feel this is necessary.’
The BMA also said local risk assessments for staff coming into contact with Covid are ‘particularly important’ now that the requirement for social distancing and mask wearing is no longer obligatory.
Practices had a responsibility to ensure safe working for staff, said the BMA.
The BMA has revised its guidance on Covid risk assessments for GP practices, which said that practices ‘might be vulnerable if their risk assessment does not include Covid-19 whilst prevalence remains significant’ due to these legal obligations.
It set out various examples of risk scenarios, including that GPs conducting face-to-face consultations in a ‘small poorly ventilated room’ and receptionists working with no partition and/or ‘inadequate or uncertain’ ventilation remain at ‘high risk’.
Practices will need to ‘review ‘mitigations that potentially reduce the standard of care, such as limiting face-to-face consultations, once the disease prevalence decreases’, the BMA added.
And it warned practices need to ‘be aware of other direct implications’ such as staff burnout, increased costs from locum support and PPE procurement and ‘reduced QOF compliance’.
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As previously published in our sister title, Pulse.