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NHS leaders were not consulted or given any notice ahead of an announcement that all hospital staff must wear surgical face masks and visitors and outpatients to wear face coverings from June 15, a healthcare chief has claimed.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, criticised the government for appearing to make decisions “on the hoof” that seem “overly influenced by politics”.
Health secretary Matt Hancock announced the new policy on face coverings in hospitals at Friday evening’s Downing Street coronavirus press conference.
He said the government wanted to ensure that “even as the virus comes under control”, hospitals are a place of “care and of safety”.
Hopson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday morning: “Two major changes on the use of personal protection equipment and on visiting policy were announced late yesterday afternoon at the end of what, to be frank, was a very busy, difficult and hard week for our trust leaders, with absolutely no notice or consultation.
“I think it’s the latest in a long line of announcements that have had a major impact on the way the NHS operates in which those frontline organisations feel they have been left completely in the dark and they are then expected to make significant and complex operational changes either immediately or with very little notice.”
He said political leaders “need to understand that running these organisations is a complex and difficult task and what you can’t do is turn on a sixpence” with major policy announcements.
Hopson’s criticism was echoed by the British Medical Association, which warned there was “little detail” on how the policy would be implemented, where the masks would come from or how outpatients and visitors would be given them.
Consultants committee chair Dr Rob Harwood said: “Given the lack of PPE supplies throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, it is absolutely crucial that the government ensures there are enough supplies of face masks for staff, and adequate provision of face coverings for outpatients and the public by the 15th June.”
Hancock’s announcement came as the World Health Organisation (WHO) updated its advice and said governments should encourage the public to wear face coverings where social distancing is difficult, such as on public transport and shops.
The WHO previously stressed there was no evidence that wearing a mask – whether medical or other types – by healthy people in the wider community could prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including Covid-19.
Speaking during a virtual press briefing, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “In areas with widespread transmission, the WHO advises medical masks for all people working in clinical areas of a health facility, not only workers dealing with patients with Covid-19.
“Secondly, in areas with community transmission, we advise that people aged 60 years or over, or those with underlying conditions, should wear a medical mask in situations where physical distancing is not possible.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.