Healthcare organisations from across England have written a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for face masks to be mandatory in healthcare settings.
From July 19 it will no longer be mandatory for the public to wear face coverings when visiting a pharmacy, dentist, hospital, shop or other establishment in England.
The letter is signed by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England (RPS), the British Medical Association, British Dental Association, Royal College of Nursing and the College of Optometrists. It calls for mandatory use of face masks, social distancing and regular handwashing by the public to stay in place past July 19 in all healthcare settings.
As well as this, the signatories want to see the use of appropriate respiratory protection for staff in health and care settings continue, alongside improvements in ventilation wherever possible.
Thorrun Govind, Chair of RPS in England, said: “Using masks in healthcare environments means staff and the public are taking steps to protect each other from Covid-19. It should, therefore, remain mandatory that they are worn past July 19.
“Despite some pharmacies being in retail environments, they remain a healthcare setting and have been relied upon to support and protect the public over the past 18 months.
“We are therefore calling on the Government to make a decision to support and protect pharmacists and healthcare professionals, as well as the public.”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of BMA Council, said: “Scrapping the remaining restrictions next week – when a significant proportion of the population still has not been fully vaccinated – will give this deadly virus an opportunity to retighten its grip; pushing infection rates up, increasing hospitalisations and people ill with long-Covid, risking new vaccine-resistant variants developing, and putting more lives at unnecessary risk.
“While the Government has said it will continue to encourage the wearing of face coverings after the 19th, within the same breath ministers confirm that masks will not be mandatory. This is contradictory and shows the Government absolving itself of responsibility while heaping pressure on the public, confused by mixed messaging of the highest order. Ministers must now reassess the decision to lift the remaining restrictions on July 19. Until then, we urge the public to continue taking every precaution by wearing face coverings, maintaining social distancing, and meeting outside where possible.”
British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch said: “No health professional should be left struggling to manage patient expectations come Monday.
“After all the mixed messages we need government to be crystal clear that face coverings will remain in place to protect the public and staff.”
Jude Diggins, Interim Director of Nursing, Policy and Public Affairs at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The recent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases shows that we have some way to go before being free from the pandemic. Using face masks, social distancing and handwashing must continue if we are to continue to protect the population.
“It is important to recognise that nursing staff are more vulnerable than the general public as they work closely with patients who may have contracted COVID-19. To keep them safe, they must be provided with and supported to use the highest level of protection through the use of FFP3 masks where necessary and in all environments.”
Colin Davidson, President of The College of Optometrists, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously affected the provision of eye care in primary and secondary care, and we, optometrists, did everything we could to minimise the risk of visual loss by maintaining essential eye care services.
"We know how hard people have worked and how overwhelmed everybody across the health and care sector have been, and we cannot praise enough practitioners who have rapidly adapted their service delivery since the pandemic started, and the ingenuity displayed to continue to practice safely and effectively. Our responsibility now is to continue to ensure that all health and care staff receive the support and protection they deserve when providing care to their patients”
Read the full letter here.