RCGP ‘strongly encourages’ patients to wear face coverings when attending GP surgeries

Publication date: 20 July 2020

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Broadly speaking, the College is supportive of face coverings being mandatory in enclosed public spaces, where social distancing is difficult, such as public transport and shops. We would also strongly encourage patients to wear face coverings if they attend their GP surgery to help minimise potential spread of COVID-19 and maximise the safety of practice staff and other patients.

"However, we feel mandating use of masks in general practice may have unintended consequences. We don’t want a situation where patients are deterred from seeking medical care when they need it because they’re not wearing a face covering – and we don’t want a situation where members of the practice team are expected to enforce mask wearing or call the police if a patient refuses to wear one.
"As we move to the next stage of the pandemic, GPs are already noticing an increase in the number face-to-face appointments we are making. In these cases, safety remains a priority and all general practice staff will be wearing masks or be behind protective screens. But from a patient perspective, we would like to see strong, unambiguous guidance from NHS England, encouraging patients to wear masks, as opposed to mandating it – as well as clear public messaging that wearing a mask is not an alternative to other measures, such as appropriate social distancing, where possible, and hygiene measures.
"We also need to see clear guidance about where wearing a face covering is mandatory and where it isn’t, as well as which groups may be exempt from wearing one and how they can prove this if challenged. We’ve heard reports of patients asking GPs for exemption notes. This isn’t a good use of GPs’ time when we’re on the frontline of dealing with the aftermath of COVID-19 and preparing for a potential second wave of the virus alongside expected winter pressures.
"As we continue to tackle COVID-19, it’s imperative that everyone is on the same page in order for this intervention to have a real impact and slow the spread of the virus."

Further Information

The College has collated UK-wide guidance for GPs and our teams on the use of masks and face coverings in primary care settings (398 KB PDF), 20 July 2020. 

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7494/7633/7574/7575
Out of hours: 020 3188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 53,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

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