Face masks should be compulsory in GP surgeries to minimise the spread of Covid-19, according to one of the top representative bodies for doctors.
The British Medical Association said that compelling people to cover their face while in shops or on public transport but not in a GP practice is “illogical” and “makes no sense”.
It wants the government to change the law to make that mandatory, as they have already done after disagreements between ministers over their approach – for those other settings.
“The BMA is clear that face coverings should be mandatory in all situations where physical distancing of more than 2 metres is not possible. It makes no sense that the government has introduced one measure for shops and public transport, while other indoor spaces, including GP practices, are exempt.
“This virus is just as infectious in a practice as it is in a shop or on a bus”, said Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA’s GPs committee.
“Practice teams are doing all they can to protect staff and patients, and enabling physical distancing where they can. However, given the layout of many practice buildings this simply is not possible for all, and clear rules from the government would ensure consistency, avoid confusion and go some way to minimising the spread among patients and staff.
“If the government is serious about reducing the spread and avoiding a potentially devastating second wave it must end its illogical and piecemeal approach to this issue now,” he added.
There are now different policies in place with regards to face masks in hospitals and GP surgeries. The government also said last month that all hospital staff, as well as anyone visiting a hospital, should cover their face but has not sought to extend the same approach to visitors to GP practices.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said last week that face masks should be worn “on public transport, in shops and in the NHS but not in offices”. But the government has not sought to compel people do so at GP practices, despite the risk of transmission.
The Royal College of General Practitioners also wants patients to wear a mask but is against compulsion.
“We would strongly encourage patients to wear face coverings if they attend their GP surgery to help minimise potential spread of Covid-19 and maximise the safety of practice staff and other patients,” said Prof Martin Marshall, the college’s chair.
“However, we feel mandating use of masks in general practice may have unintended consequences. We don’t want a situation where patients are deterred from seeking medical care when they need it because they’re not wearing a face covering or where members of the practice team are expected to enforce mask wearing or call the police if a patient refuses to wear one.”
Most GPs are now conducting face-to-face appointments wearing a face mask or other form of personal protective equipment and there is now a perspex screen in many surgery reception areas to keep staff separate from patients.
Far fewer patients have been visiting a GP surgery during the pandemic, and many have instead had a telephone or video consultation. But the number of appointments in person has begun rising again.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We advise people to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces where they cannot easily social distance and where they come into contact with people they do not normally meet. This includes GP surgeries.”