NHS given 'no notice or consultation' over new face mask policy

Hospitals were not consulted on plans for all staff, visitors and outpatients to wear face masks and coverings from June 15, a healthcare chief claims.

Chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson criticised the Government for appearing to make decisions ‘on the hoof’ that seem ‘overly influenced by politics’.

A new policy announced at yesterday’s Downing Street briefing requires hospital staff to wear surgical masks and for visitors and outpatients to wear face coverings from June 15. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government wanted to ensure that ‘even as the virus comes under control’, hospitals are a place of ‘care and of safety’.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hopson said: ‘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.’

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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. NHS Providers is a membership organisation representing the health service’s foundations and trusts.

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.

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.’

Newly-updated World Health Organisation advice said governments should encourage the public to wear face coverings where social distancing is difficult, such as on public transport and shops.

It comes amid reports that Sunday trading laws could be suspended for a year under Government plans to stimulate the economy.

Downing Street is said to be drawing up legislation to enable larger supermarkets to open for more than six hours on Sundays, according to The Times.

Under the plans, cafes and pubs would be given fast-track approval to serve food and drink outside – doing away with the need for the 28-day minimum statutory consultation period.

Former prime minister David Cameron was forced to drop plans to extend Sunday trading hours in 2016 after suffering a humiliating Commons defeat which saw 27 Tories joining forces with opposition parties.

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