Anger of NHS boss after face masks are made mandatory in hospitals

6 June 2020, 11:26

Matt Hancock donating Covid-19 Antibodies in central Londo
Matt Hancock donating Covid-19 Antibodies in central Londo. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

The head of NHS Providers has criticised Matt Hancock's "on the hoof" decision to make face masks or coverings mandatory for all people entering hospitals, including staff.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said NHS trusts were not consulted on the plans and said the Government had been making decisions "on the hoof" that are "overly influenced by politics".

From June 15, all hospital staff will be required to wear surgical face masks, and visitors and outpatients will have to wear face coverings.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the new policy on face coverings in hospitals at Friday evening's Downing Street coronavirus press conference.

He said the Government wanted to ensure that "even as the virus comes under control", hospitals are a place of "care and of safety".

Mr Hopson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Two major changes on the use of personal protection equipment and on visiting policy were announced late yesterday afternoon at the end of what, to be frank, was a very busy, difficult and hard week for our trust leaders, with absolutely no notice or consultation.

"I think it's the latest in a long line of announcements that have had a major impact on the way the NHS operates in which those frontline organisations feel they have been left completely in the dark and they are then expected to make significant and complex operational changes either immediately or with very little notice."

He said political leaders "need to understand that running these organisations is a complex and difficult task and what you can't do is turn on a sixpence" with major policy announcements.

Mr Hopson's criticism was echoed by the British Medical Association, which warned there was "little detail" on how the policy would be implemented, where the masks would come from or how outpatients and visitors would be given them.

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Consultants committee chair 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 15th June."

Meanwhile, there are fears over the coronavirus reproduction rate in parts of England as new data suggested the R value is now around one in the North West.

The value used by the Government remained between 0.7 and 0.9 for the UK as a whole, though the figure has a two to three-week lag, meaning it does not account for the latest easing of the lockdown.

But a separate report from Public Health England (PHE) and Cambridge University, which estimates what the value is currently, put the North West on 1.01 and the South West on 1.00.

Mr Hancock said that new figures on the R confirm "there is a challenge in the North West of England to address and, to a lesser degree, in the South West of England".

He said the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) believes the R is below one across the UK but the Government wants to "increasingly have an approach in tackling local lockdowns where we spot a flare-up".

Labour-led Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council in Greater Manchester has advised schools to delay their wider reopening until at least June 22 because of the infection rate.

The council's director of public health, Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, wrote to headteachers strongly advising them against admitting more pupils until there is further assurance that the "rate of infection is reducing and R is firmly below 1".