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Patients no longer required to wear face masks in primary care

by Beth Gault
8 June 2022

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Patients who enter GP practices in England are no longer required to wear face masks unless they have respiratory symptoms.

Updated guidance says patients, apart from those with respiratory symptoms, are ‘not required’ to wear a face mask unless they wish to as a ‘personal preference’.

However, health and care staff should continue to wear face masks as part of PPE when working with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients, including those working with untriaged patients in primary care.

In a letter to CCGs and trusts, sent on 1 June, NHS England set out changes to infection prevention and control (IPC) measures following updates from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) with new Covid-19 pathogen-specific advice.

The letter said: ‘This [working with suspected Covid-19 patients] is likely to include settings where untriaged patients may present such as emergency departments or primary care, depending on local risk assessment.’

It added that in non-clinical areas such as offices and social settings, staff do not need to wear masks unless it is a personal preference to, or if there are issues raised by risk assessments.

Any IPC measures beyond the updated guidance are a matter for ‘local discretion’, the letter said.

NHS England added that all healthcare settings ‘should now be transitioning back towards their own pre-pandemic policies’ on inpatient visiting and patients being accompanied in urgent and emergency care (UEC), outpatient or primary care services.

It said the expected position was that no patient should be alone during their treatment unless this is their choice.

It said: ‘We understand there may be a period of transition as providers make changes to their operating procedures, especially given local variation in Covid-19 infection levels.’

In April, NHS England said all patients, staff and visitors should continue to practise good hand and respiratory hygiene including the continued use of face masks.

Guidance in full

Health and care staff:

  • Health and care staff should continue to wear facemasks as part of personal protective equipment required for transmission-based precautions when working in Covid-19/respiratory care pathways, and when clinically caring for suspected/confirmed Covid-19 patients. This is likely to include settings where untriaged patients may present such as emergency departments or primary care, depending on local risk assessment. In all other clinical care areas, universal masking should be applied when there is known or suspected cluster transmission of SARS-CoV-2, eg during an outbreak, and/or if new SARS-CoV-2 VOC emerge.
  • Health and care staff are in general not required to wear facemasks in non-clinical areas eg offices, social settings, unless this is their personal preference or there are specific issues raised by a risk assessment. This should also be considered in community settings.

Outpatients, UEC and primary care:

  • Patients with respiratory symptoms who are required to attend for emergency treatment should wear a facemask/covering, if tolerated, or offered one on arrival.
  • All other patients are not required to wear a facemask unless this is a personal preference.

Source: NHS England

This story was initially published on our sister title Pulse.