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Risk-assessed practices can legally require patients to wear face masks, BMA says

by Costanza Potter
26 January 2022

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GP practices should tell patients that wearing a face mask on the premises is a ‘legal requirement’ if a risk assessment suggests masks should be worn, according to BMA advice.

Last week, NHS England confirmed that patients and staff should continue to wear face masks in GP practices, despite the Government’s announcement that they would no longer be mandatory in public places.

It said practices should ‘encourage patients to wear a face covering to keep staff and other patients safe’.

But the BMA’s latest GP Committee bulletin went further, saying that practices should carry out risk assessments and, if the practices deem it necessary, patients would have a legal ‘duty’ to wear a mask.

It said: ‘Practices should carry out risk assessments of their environments and assess what level of respiratory protective equipment should be worn by different groups in various settings. 

‘Health and safety law makes it your responsibility to protect staff and other patients based upon these risk assessments, thus making mask wearing a legal requirement if your risk assessment suggests masks should be worn.’

It added: ‘If challenged by patients not wanting to wear a mask you can mention the IPC guidance and your risk assessments and inform the patient that “the law imposes on me the duty to expect you to wear a mask and on you the duty to wear one in these premises”.’

Current infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance for health settings continues to say that ‘universal masking with face coverings or surgical masks (Type II or IIR) to prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory infectious agents in health and care settings, as a source control measure, should continue to be applied for all staff, patients and visitors’.

The UK Health Security Agency and NHS England – which jointly manage the IPC guidance with Public Health Wales and the Northern Ireland Public Health Agency – both reiterated previous guidance but did not comment on the BMA’s advice.

NHS England redirected Pulse questioning on health and safety laws to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

But a DHSC spokesperson also reiterated the IPC guidance and did not respond to a request to comment on the BMA’s advice.

The legal requirement for mandatory face coverings in many public places comes to an end in England from Thursday this week (27 January). Although this legal mandate had never extended to NHS premises, the guidance stated they were ‘needed in healthcare settings to comply with infection, prevention, control (IPC) guidance’.

The BMA has criticised the ending of the restrictions, saying it risked ‘a false sense of security’ when the NHS was ‘still under crippling pressure’.

Meanwhile, updated IPC guidance has suggested that GPs treating patients with a ‘suspected or confirmed’ Covid infection must wear an FFP3 mask.

Click to complete relevant Covid-19 CPD modules on Pulse Learning.

This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.