COVID-19: surgical masks compulsory for all hospital staff in England from 15 June

What you need to know about new government guidance

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It will soon be compulsory for all hospital staff in England to wear surgical masks, and hospital visitors and outpatients will be strongly urged to wear face coverings, the government has announced.

The new policy comes into effect on 15 June, a move which health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said will ensure that ‘even as the virus comes under control’ hospitals are a place of ‘care and of safety’.

Surgical masks essential in all hospital areas

NHS staff already wear surgical masks in clinical areas where they are within two metres of a patient, but this new guidance applies to everyone working in all areas of a hospital, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said.

The government insisted that it ‘has adequate stocks of face masks to meet demand and continues to pursue contracts for additional stock’.

Advice on face coverings for all other individuals in hospitals

Outpatients and visitors will be strongly urged to wear a face covering, but no one will be denied care, and masks will be provided by the hospital ‘in emergencies’.

The NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the health and care sector, said questions would be asked as to why such measures were not introduced sooner, while the British Medical Association called on the government to ‘ensure consistency’ by extending face covering measures across primary care and all other healthcare settings.

Surgical masks and face coverings: what you need to know

What is the new guidance?

From 15 June all staff working in hospitals will be required to wear surgical masks.

This rule will apply at all times and in all areas ‘except those designated as COVID-secure workplaces’.

Where personal protective equipment (PPE) guidance recommends more stringent protection, this remains in place.

All hospital visitors and outpatients will be strongly urged to wear face coverings.

Does the guidance apply to the whole of the UK?

The new guidance is for England only.

What type of mask do I have to wear?

NHS staff have been asked to wear Type 1 or Type 2 surgical face masks, except where PPE guidance recommends more stringent protection.

What about ‘face coverings’ for outpatients and visitors?

Face coverings are not the same as face masks. The government has stated that coverings can be made from scarves, bandanas or other cotton fabric items such as T-shirts, so long as they cover the mouth and nose.

The coverings should allow the wearer to breathe comfortably and be tied behind the head to provide a ‘snug fit’.

The government has previously issued advice on how to make a simple cloth face covering.

Why are face coverings being recommended?

The government states that while wearing a face covering may not protect the wearer, it may protect others if the wearer is infected but has not yet developed symptoms.

Are there any exemptions?

There will be exemptions for very young children, people with disabilities and individuals with breathing difficulties.

What about other care settings?

The DHSC said it is working with the social care sector to ensure a similar approach.

An online PPE portal has been developed to enable GPs and small social care providers struggling to access PPE to request critical items from the DHSC.


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