Medics and NHS bosses slam Matt Hancock for ‘rushed’ decision to make hospital staff wear masks and say they were not consulted
- Backlash over TV announcement that all NHS staff must wear masks on premises
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock is accused of failing to warn hospitals of change
- But experts say that there is good reason to ensure hospital staff wear masks
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
The Government was embroiled in a fresh row with medics last night after it was accused of failing to warn hospital bosses they would soon have to ensure all staff wore masks, before announcing the move live on TV.
Matt Hancock used the daily coronavirus briefing on Friday to reveal that from June 15 all staff will have to wear surgical masks on hospital premises, while outpatients and visitors must wear face coverings.
But NHS bosses and medics accused the Health Secretary of unveiling a ‘rushed’ decision without consulting them.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is pictured above donating Covid-19 antibodies in London. Despite criticising the lack of consultation, the British Medical Association is backing compulsory face coverings in hospitals – and wants the order extended to all healthcare settings, including GP surgeries
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the umbrella group NHS Providers, said: ‘It is the latest in a long line of announcements that have had a major impact on the way the NHS operates, in which those organisations feel they have been left in the dark.
‘They are then expected to make significant or complex operational changes either immediately or with very little notice.’
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association, said: ‘It is extremely concerning to hear there has been no consultation with hospital trusts on how this will work in practice.
‘If we are to have confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver on this, they must be forthcoming on the details of how this will work.’
The row came as:
- The UK death toll rose by 204 – the lowest Saturday rise since lockdown began – taking the total to 40,353;
- Airline bosses said ‘air bridges’ with holiday destinations such as Spain, Portugal, Greece and Turkey must swiftly be agreed, or else the whole holiday season would be jeopardised;
- Ministers were urged to order councils to re-open toilets and children’s playgrounds;
- Parents in Cheshire have been told by council officials that their children will not be going back to school tomorrow because the rate of infection is too high.
The Department of Health and Social Care said NHS England had known Mr Hancock was going to make the announcement, adding that hospitals still had more than a week to prepare. A junior doctor is pictured above wearing a mask at the Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital in Blackburn
In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hopson said that NHS staff ‘can’t do that job properly if they are on the end of rushed-out Friday afternoon announcements, they actually know very little about’.
Hospital bosses viewed Mr Hancock’s latest pledge as ‘part of a systematic pattern where there isn’t enough strategy or planning’, he said.
‘It feels like last-minute decisions are being made on the hoof that seem overly influenced by politics and the need to fill space at the Downing Street press conferences.’
He said requiring up to 1.2 million NHS staff to wear masks raised a host of questions.
‘Does that apply to every single site and building in the NHS where there is no patient-facing activity?’ he said. ‘’What back-up, buffer stock will you need?
The Government was embroiled in a fresh row with medics last night after it was accused of failing to warn hospital bosses they would soon have to ensure all staff wore masks, before announcing the move live on TV
‘Are you issuing the supply to every member of staff each day, each week, each fortnight?’
However, experts say there is good reason to ensure hospital staff wear masks, as studies suggest they are – unknowingly – a major spreader of the virus.
More than half of cases are thought to be passed on by asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic carriers.
Retired GP Dr Bing Jones, who has conducted a contact tracing trial in Sheffield, found half the initial coronavirus cases they followed up were among NHS and social care workers.
He said: ‘Workers in health and social care are quite clearly the spreaders of this virus.
‘They are the main vectors, completely unwittingly. These are wonderful people, doing the best job and dying for us, but they are also spreading the virus.’
Despite criticising the lack of consultation, the British Medical Association is backing compulsory face coverings in hospitals – and wants the order extended to all healthcare settings, including GP surgeries.
The Department of Health and Social Care said NHS England had known Mr Hancock was going to make the announcement, adding that hospitals still had more than a week to prepare.
Weddings ‘set for July return’
Ministers last night gave hope to thousands of couples planning to tie the knot this summer.
Boris Johnson is expected to put a plan before the Cabinet on Tuesday that will see places of worship allowed to reopen for individual prayer on June 15.
And it could pave the way for small church weddings as soon as July or August.
The UK’s £10 billion marriage industry has been hit hard by the virus, with thousands of ceremonies cancelled.
Last night, Downing Street said: ‘The Prime Minister recognises how important it is… for people to have the space to reflect and pray… and to be able to mourn for their loved ones.’
Communities Minister Robert Jenrick said ensuring places of worship can reopen has been a ‘priority’.