How will the easing of the face covering requirement on 19 July 2021 in England affect our health and social care services?

So called “Freedom Day” today brings with it the end to many coronavirus restrictions, some of which have been in place for well over a year.

One of the requirements being eased is the mandatory obligation to wear a face covering in enclosed public settings.

However, the government is still encouraging the voluntary use of face coverings by saying it “expects and recommends” them in crowded areas such as public transport. Some organisations, including supermarkets, airlines and Transport for London have announced that they will continue to require their customers to wear face covering unless they are exempt beyond the 19 July “Freedom Day” given the continuing rising rate of infections.

But how will this easing of face covering requirements affect the health service settings? NHS England announced last week that all staff, anyone accessing or visiting health care settings (whether that be hospitals, GP practices, dental practices, optometrists or pharmacies) must continue to wear a face covering unless they are exempt, as well as follow social distancing guidelines.  Notwithstanding the lifting of restrictions, the NHS visitor guidance and Public Health England’s infection prevention control guidelines are going to remain in place across all health services in England to ensure that patients and staff continue to be protected.

It remains to be seen just how compliant patients and visitors will be with the request to continue to wear face coverings beyond the easing of restrictions. However, if you work in a health care setting and are unclear whether you can continue to ask patients to wear facemasks, NHS England has made it very clear that the expectation is for all staff, service users and visitors to continue to use face coverings, unless they are exempt.

Click here to read the ‘COVID-19: Guidance for maintaining services within health and care settings’

Click here to read the ‘Visiting healthcare inpatient settings during the COVID-19 pandemic: principles’