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Nine in 10 doctors want to keep masks in practices, surveys find

by Jess Hacker
14 July 2021

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The majority of doctors and healthcare staff believe wearing masks in GP practices and hospitals should continue to be a legal requirement.

In two separate polls – carried out by the BMA and the NHS Confederation – it was found that around nine-in-10 of their members believed masks should be mandated in all healthcare settings.

As many as 2,176 (91%) of doctors surveyed by the BMA supported the statement that both patients and clinical staff should wear masks where practical, while a further 78% said that social distancing measures should remain mandatory too.

Meanwhile, 433 (90%) of members polled by the NHS Confederation agreed masks should remain a legal requirement in these same settings.

This comes days after the Government confirmed that easing Covid restrictions would go ahead as planned form next Monday (19 July), with promises to publish ‘clear and strong guidance’ on mask wearing still not met.

The NHS Confederation said that if this guidance is ‘too opaque or does not go far enough’ then stronger measures may be needed to ensure face coverings are worn ‘every time they visit their GP’ and similar settings.

Small but important gesture

One NHS manager responded to NHS Confederation’s survey describing wearing a mask as ‘a small gesture but an important one’, as it reduces cross infection and protects those still vulnerable.

Another said: ‘It’s a small ask for potentially very large gain in keeping Covid-19 transmission rates lower and keeping our patients and health and care staff as safe as possible.’

Managers also shared concerns that if the public are unclear on when they should wear a mask they may ‘choose not to’, leading to the rapid spread of infection.

Sustained and steep rise in cases

Commenting on the BMA’s findings, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair, said by refusing to mandate masks, England will see ‘a sustained and even steeper rise in infection rates’ across the summer.

He added that ‘simply ‘expecting’ people to wear one is not good enough and sends out a confusing mixed message to the public’.

Dr Nagpaul also said that England’s ‘soaring’ infection rates – the highest in Europe – are already impacting the NHS, with the number of people in hospital beds and on ventilators doubling in the last month.

Even a ‘most increase’ in Covid-related hospitalisations could overstretch the NHS as it deals with the backlog for care which is estimated to have reached 5.3 million people.

Meanwhile, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘We know that face masks are proven to reduce the spread of Covid-19 which is why the overwhelming majority of our members are urging the government to be crystal clear with the public and say that it is a mandatory requirement to wear a face mask in all healthcare settings.’

He added: ‘NHS leaders are very concerned that unless the message is simple and unambiguous people may get confused and make their own rules which could put others at risk.’

Earlier this week, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) also called for masks and other similar preventative measures to remain in place in general practice.