Staff and visitors will be required to wear face masks and coverings at NHS hospitals in England, the Department of Health and Social Care has said.
All staff in hospitals in England will be provided with surgical masks from 15 June. All visitors and outpatients must wear face coverings at all times.
The hospital announcement came a day after the government said that people using public transport in England would have to wear face coverings, a rule that will also come into effect on 15 June.
Evidence from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) had previously confirmed face coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission if you are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms.
NHS staff already wear face masks in clinical areas within 2 metres of a patient, but this new guidance applies to everyone working in all areas of the hospital.
Members of the public will be strongly urged to attend hospital wearing a face covering, but a face mask will be provided in emergencies.
The government said it is working with the social care sector to implement a similar approach.
At the 10 Downing Street press conference held on 5 June, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “As the NHS reopens right across the country, it is critically important to stop the spread amongst staff, patients and visitors too. So today we are setting out that all hospital visitors and outpatients will need to wear face coverings.
“One of the things that we’ve learnt is that those in hospital, those who are working in hospital, are more likely to catch coronavirus, whether they work in a clinical setting or not.
“To offer even greater protection, we are also providing new guidance for NHS staff in England which will come into force again on the 15 June, and all hospital staff will be required to wear Type 1 or 2 surgical masks, and this will cover all staff working in hospital.
“It will apply at all times, not just when they are doing their life-saving work on the frontline. It will apply in all areas except those areas designated as COVID-secure workplaces. And, of course, where PPE guidance recommends more stringent protection, that remains in place.”
Last month, government set out advice for people on how to make their own face coverings easily at home, using scarves or other textile items. These face coverings should cover the mouth and nose while allowing the wearer to breathe comfortably and can be as simple as a scarf or bandanna that ties behind the head to give a snug fit.
The goverment said it has adequate stocks of face masks to meet demand and continues to pursue contracts for additional stock.
Hancock said that further guidance for hospitals will be published by 15 June to allow hospitals to get stocks and plans in place, and that the guidance will be kept under review.
The government’s wider advice is that people should wash their hands or use hand sanitiser before putting their face covering on and after taking it off and it is important that people do not touch their face covering when wearing it, where possible, to avoid hand-to-mask transmission of the virus.
The public are also being advised to consider wearing face coverings in enclosed public spaces where they may be more likely to come into contact with people they do not normally meet, the government announced.
On 4 June Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that it would work with operators to make it mandatory for passengers to wear face coverings when using public transport in England from 15 June.
NHS trusts were not consulted before the government announced changes to the use of face coverings and visitor policy in English hospitals, said health sector organisations.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “It's the latest in a long line of announcements that have had a major impact on the way the NHS operates, in which frontline organisations feel they’ve been left completely in the dark, and they’re then expected to make significant and complex operational changes either immediately or with very little notice.”
The British Medical Association (BMA) is concerned at a lac of detail on how the policy would be implemented, such as where the masks would come from or how outpatients and visitors would be given them. Consultants committee chairman 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 15 June.”
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