The Telegraph reports that several NHS hospitals have called on patients and staff to continue to wear masks and face coverings on their sites.
The National Health Service is the umbrella term for the publicly funded health care systems of the United Kingdom.
On Wednesday, it was reported that hospitals and GPs can now make their own policies, with some having already taken down signs that told patients to wear masks on entry and others calling on patients and staff to continue to wear masks and face coverings on their sites.
Health chiefs Professor Stephen Powis National Medical Director and Duncan Burton Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England wrote to NHS Trusts about revised infection control measures for NHS settings.
The rule change came after the UK Health Security Agency published new COVID-19 guidance for health and care professionals on May 27.
They wrote that any IPC (infection prevention and control) measures beyond those contained in those publications is “a matter for local discretion.”
Hospitals have also been told they should start reverting to their own pre-pandemic IPC policies while acknowledging it may involve a period of transition.
“Health and care staff should continue to wear facemasks as part of personal protective equipment required for transmission-based precautions when working in COVID-19/respiratory care pathways, and when clinically caring for suspected/confirmed COVID-19 patients,” the letter read.
“All other inpatients are not necessarily required to wear a facemask unless this is a personal preference,” it added.
“Visitors and individuals accompanying patients to outpatient appointments or the emergency department are not routinely required to wear a facemask unless this is a personal preference,” added the health chiefs.
Hospitals in England have now begun issuing guidance but some are saying they intend to keep insisting on people wearing masks.
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals still has a notice to patients and staff on its main page that: COVID has not gone away, wear a mask at all times and keep your social distance from others.
Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust issued a statement saying: “All visitors to wards must wear a mask to protect our patients and staff from the spread of COVID-19 and other infections.” Outpatients’ appointments must wear a face mask at all times and up until June 7, it had not allowed both parents to visit the children’s wards at the same time.
Croydon Health Services NHS Trust is also advising staff to still wear masks in clinical areas, but not in non-clinical including offices and corridors areas unless specifically required.
“The safety of our patients, visitors, and staff is paramount, so facemasks and protective equipment will continue to be worn wherever appropriate in clinical areas,” wrote Croydon Health Services.
In May, The Telegraph reported that Sajid Javid, the health secretary, told NHS trusts to drop restrictions in hospitals and also threatened to name and shame NHS trusts that do not ease the measures as it can limit operational capacity amid record waiting lists.
From July 2021, England opened up earlier than other comparable countries and has been relatively restriction-free since. Masks are no longer legally required in most public spaces.
In February, England scrapped its last remaining COVID-19 rule ie. the need for infected people to isolate.
PA media andcontributed to this report.