The latest Covid surge has pushed the NHS in some parts of England to reintroduce face masks in GP practices, for staff and patients.
A letter from NHS England’s local team in the Midlands advised all NHS providers including primary care to ‘review their mask-wearing guidance’.
It said they should aim to reintroduce ‘universal mask wearing for staff’ and encourage patients and visitors to wear them although they ‘may decline to do so’.
The letter, sent on 7 July, said: ‘We are advising that, in line with [UK Health Security Agency] UKHSA guidance, all providers review their mask-wearing guidance with a view to moving back towards universal mask wearing for staff.
‘This includes colleagues in primary care settings (general practice, pharmacy, optometry and dental services).’
It added: ‘Regionally, we advise that risk assessments are undertaken with a view to encouraging patients and visitors to wear face masks when visiting any healthcare setting, unless exempt, although we appreciate that there is no mandate for visitors to wear a face mask and they may decline to do so.’
The letter said this comes as it is ‘apparent that we have entered the next Covid-19 wave’, with a 97% increase in nosocomial Covid-19 cases in acute trust settings locally over the previous seven days and an increase in Covid-related staff absences.
It added: ‘Given the significant increases that we are observing across our region, we believe that it is prudent to request that you review your current positions given the rising Covid-19 numbers to protect your patients and your staff.’
Similar moves have also been reported in Devon and Sussex, where local NHS chiefs have tightened infection prevention and control (IPC) measures across GP practices and hospitals.
According to ITV, NHS Sussex reintroduced masks for patients, visitors and staff in all clinical health and care settings, although exemptions will be respected.
And local newspaper the Mid-Devon Advertiser reported that NHS Devon urged patients to wear a face mask when visiting their GP practice, hospital or care home.
GP practices including in London, Hereford and Gloucestershire and hospitals in Dudley and Nottinghamshire have also reintroduced face mask policies, according to local reports.
NHS England last month updated its guidance to say that patients who enter GP practices in England are no longer required to wear a face mask unless they have respiratory symptoms.
It comes as the latest Government data revealed that the growth rate for England is now between 2% and 5%, meaning the number of new infections is growing by between 2% and 5% every day.
Government figures show there were 19,265,078 cases in England as of 6 July, of which 18,164,786 were first episodes and 1,100,292 were reinfections, while the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates around one in 25 people in England (4%) had Covid in the latest week recorded.