Hospitals are asking patients, staff and visitors to wear face masks again, despite official guidance suggesting they are no longer necessary.
NHS organisations in Sussex have agreed to reintroduce masks in all clinical settings, including hospital wards, consulting rooms and outpatient departments.
NHS Sussex said in a statement the changes were due to increasing Covid-19 cases in the community and nationally.
Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust also said it had become “necessary to reintroduce mask-wearing in all inpatient and outpatient areas” after a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases.
NHS chiefs in the Midlands wrote to providers last week and advised them to review mask-wearing guidance “with a view to moving back towards universal mask-wearing for staff”, The Independent first reported.
The letter added: “Regionally, we advise that risk assessments are undertaken with a view to encouraging patients and visitors to wear face masks when visiting any healthcare setting, unless exempt, although we appreciate that there is no mandate for visitors to wear a face mask and they may decline to do so.”
NHS guidance on face masks
But official guidance from NHS England, sent to trust leaders last month, said masks were only necessary for inpatients with suspected or confirmed Covid-19.
The letter, from Prof Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director, added that people attending outpatient hospital appointments, emergency care or visiting the GP would only be asked to wear a mask if they had respiratory symptoms.
For all other patients, a face mask was not required but should be considered “personal preference”.
Visitors accompanying outpatients or emergency patients are “not routinely required to wear a face mask”, the guidance added, but they may be encouraged to do so depending on a local risk assessment.
The letter also stated, however, that trusts can use their own local risk assessment to determine the “exact interpretation” of the guidance, which is set by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
The changes to mask rules by some hospitals comes after Office for National Statistics data show that, as of June 29, one in 25 people in England were infected with Covid-19 – up from one in 30 in the previous week.
As of June 30, 11,316 people in the UK were in hospital with coronavirus, up from 8,350 in the previous week.
UKHSA data, published last week, also show Covid outbreaks in care homes jumped 50 per cent in a week, from 211 to 312 outbreaks.