Sheffield hospital bosses call for masks still to be worn despite lifting of Covid restrictions

National rules on mask wearing in GP surgeries and hospitals have largely been scrapped under new guidance, but hospital bosses in Sheffield still want them to be worn.

Friday, 10th June 2022, 12:25 pm

Organisations are now drafting their own policies on general mask use, with some GP surgeries and health centres taking down signs telling patients to wear masks on entry.

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But a number of hospitals have called on patients and staff to continue to wear masks and face coverings on their sites.

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Hospital bosses in Sheffield are advising people to continue wearing masks for appointments and visits. Photo: Jonathan Gawthorpe

In a letter to all local health bodies, NHS England highlighted new infection control guidance set out by the UK Health Security Agency.

Patients visiting GP surgeries or hospital outpatient appointments and people attending A&E no longer need to wear masks “unless this is a personal preference”, the letter states.

But those with respiratory symptoms - such as a cough - should wear a face mask or face covering “if tolerated”.

Patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 or suspected to have Covid should be provided with a face mask when they are admitted to a ward or in a communal area “if this can be tolerated and it is deemed safe for the patient”, the letter adds.

Covid-19 patients in single rooms will not usually be required to wear a mask.

Hospital patients who do not have Covid do not need to wear a face mask unless it is their “personal preference”, the letter adds.

But they may be asked to in some high risk areas such as cancer units, blood disorder treatment services or elderly care wards.

With regards to health and care staff, mask use is still advised in high risk areas but the rules should be “guided by local assessment”

Universal mask wearing by staff should be considered when there is a local outbreak of cases, the guidance adds.

Staff no longer need to wear masks in non-clinical areas such as staff rooms and offices.

The letter adds that any infection control measures above and beyond those set out in national guidance are "a matter for local discretion”.

Visitors may be asked to wear face masks in high risk areas but won't be routinely asked to wear masks when accompanying patients to other areas of hospitals, “although they may be encouraged to do so following a local risk assessment”, the letter adds.

The letter, penned by NHS England's national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, and Duncan Burton, deputy chief nursing officer for England, suggests that it may take some time for the policies to bed in.

The pair note that the infection control measures introduced during the pandemic “continue to have an impact on capacity and flow”.

“Thank you for everything you and your teams have done over the last two-and-a-half years,” they wrote.

“We understand that there may be a period of transition as providers make changes to their operating procedures, especially given local variation in Covid-19 infection levels.”

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals issued a notice to patients and staff saying: “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.

“This is to keep vulnerable people as safe as possible.”