Health chiefs yesterday dropped all guidance which told patients to wear coverings inside hospitals, A&E units and GP surgeries. Pandemic era guidance was continuing to impact on ‘capacity and flow’, bosses said.
NHS trusts have vowed to keep face mask rules in place, despite officials scrapping them now the worst of Covid is over.
Instead of a national rule, local health bodies were given the power to draft their own policies.
As a result, several trusts are still demanding patients and visitors continue wearing face coverings.
One of these is Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
‘We are still asking patients, visitors, staff and anyone working at one of our hospital or community sites to continue to wear a mask, gel hands and social distance while in our buildings despite the lifting of national restrictions,’ it says.
‘This is to keep vulnerable people as safe as possible.’
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (pictured) is one NHS organisation instructing patients. visitors and staff to keep wearing a mask
A warning on the trust’s website acknowledges its mask mandate is contrary to national guidance but insists this is to keep ‘vulnerable people as safe as possible’
Another hospital telling people to continue to wear masks is Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
A letter from NHS England sent out last week highlights that patients and visitors in most scenarios should not be required to wear a mask unless that is their personal preference
Campaigners say desperate patients are turning to busy A&Es because they can’t get face-to-face appointments
A dire lack of access to GPs has been blamed for the country’s A&E crisis after video emerged of patients being told they faced waits of up to 13 hours in an emergency department.
A&E services across England are at breaking point as record numbers of patients flood back into the system after years of delays caused by the Covid pandemic, sparking record waits in casualty units.
Campaign groups, MPs and senior medics say desperate patients are turning to emergency and walk-in services because they can’t get a face-to-face appointment with their GP.
The patients’ rights group Silver Voices told MailOnline the situation was ‘completely unacceptable in the 21st century’, adding that by the time patients turn to A&E their conditions have already worsened..
Around 60 per cent of appointments with GPs are in-person, with the rest done virtually, compared to more than 80 per cent pre-pandemic.
The average GP in England is responsible for 2,200 patients now – up from 1,900 in 2016. In the areas with poorest access, up to 2,600 patients are fighting over one family doctor.
Tory MP Matthew Offord told MailOnline: ‘The GP surgery should be the first point of contact so that patients can receive the most appropriate treatment in a timely manner. A&E departments across the country are being placed under enormous stress and the Government is not even seeking to understand why this is happening.’
The fury came after a video showed an irate A&E nurse at Princess Alexandra Hospital Trust in Harlow warning patients they faced a 13-hour wait to be seen.
Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust made a similar plea but added masks wearing was to help control other infections as well.
‘All visitors to wards must wear a mask to protect our patients and staff from the spread of Covid and other infections,’ it said.
Croydon Health Services NHS trust is also advising visitors to still wear masks.
Other hospitals are, however, following the updated NHS advice.
Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals Trust in Surrey says: ‘Following an update on national guidance, visitors and those accompanying patients to outpatient appointments or the emergency department are no longer required to wear a face mask.’
But it does make clear that people may be asked to wear a mask in areas where patients at high risk of infection are being treated, like cancer patients, as well as Covid wards themselves to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation trust issued similar advice: ‘In line with national guidance, the requirement to wear masks in healthcare settings will end at our hospitals from Tuesday June 7.’
‘There are some exceptions, including oncology and haematology inpatient and outpatient areas, Covid cohort areas and any wards with Covid outbreaks.’
The NHS England letter, sent out last week, states that staff should continue to wear masks when working with Covid patients.
They should keep them on in areas where infected patients might be encountered, like A&E.
However, NHS staff are no longer required to wear masks in non-clinical areas like staff rooms.
The letter, penned by Sir Stephen Powis, the national medical director, and Duncan Burton, deputy chief nursing officer, said most patients and visitors no longer need to wear masks ‘unless this is a personal preference’.
It also revealed that a mask mandate for staff might be considered if there is a local surge in cases or if a new variant of concern is identified.
The letter also acknowledge there may be a ‘period of transition’ as hospitals make changes and these may vary given local Covid levels.
The latest report on Covid infection levels from the Office for National Statistics found about one in 60 people in England were infected with the virus as of the week ending May 21.
It comes just a day after video emerged of patients in a busy A&E being told they faced waits of up to 13 hours to see a medic.
It also comes just a month after Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned NHS trusts to get back to a post-Covid normal, or risk being name and shamed.