NHS England has advised trusts that many rules established during the Covid-19 pandemic to reduce the spread of infection can start to be relaxed.
Patients, however, should expect to continue to be asked to wear a mask in most NHS settings, at least for now.
The NHS England guidance, released prior to the Jubilee Bank Holiday Weekend, set out that beyond specific vaccination and testing requirements for inpatients, infection prevention and control measures are now a matter at the discretion of local trusts. These include the rules relating to the wearing of masks by patients, staff and visitors, the policies on inpatient visiting and being accompanied to urgent or outpatient appointments.
Any relaxation of these measures will be able to take account of the local situation, including current rates of Covid-19 infections in the community.
Local NHS Trusts are in the process of reviewing the guidance and their own local circumstances ahead of any changes. It is likely that because of specific organisational requirements, including local infection rates, waiting area restrictions and operational pressures, hospitals and other NHS services may implement the relaxation of the guidance at different speeds.
The key message for patients is that despite the guidance giving permission to relax rules, many services or buildings will still ask visitors and patients to wear masks for the time being. This may result in some variation between NHS services as the guidance is implemented, but this will be for valid, operational reasons.
Brigid Stacey, Chief Nursing Officer at NHS Derby and Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We welcome the guidance as a further step towards normal working practices in the NHS. Our services remain under significant pressure and we are seeing a rise of inpatients with Covid-19 infection, so the local NHS is taking the opportunity to review the position in each service or building to determine the right approach at a local level.
“This may mean that patients or visitors need to wear a mask when attending one hospital, but don’t need to wear one when attending another, and this will be due to local circumstances.
“We expect in time that all pandemic rules around masks and visiting and social distancing can be relaxed, but for now we have to do this steadily and sensibly to ensure we can keep our patients and staff safe and continue to provide high quality care. We are very grateful to our patients, visitors and staff for their continued understanding and support.”