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12th July 2021

Thousands of UK doctors say face coverings and social distancing should remain mandatory, BMA survey reveals


BMA press release:  Monday 12th July 2021 Thousands of doctors in the UK say they want to see face coverings remain mandatory, with 90% of those taking part in a survey telling the BMA that masks should continue to be worn on public transport.  The results of the Association’s latest Viewpoint survey come ahead of the Government’s scheduled announcement this evening, where the Prime Minister is expected to confirm that all Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted on July 19, including the compulsory wearing of face coverings. 

Almost 2,500 doctors (note 1) across the UK responded to the latest BMA survey, and as well as 90% wanting to see masks remaining mandatory on public transport, a further 2,176 or 91% of doctors believe masks should continue to be worn in healthcare settings - where practical - and another 2,061 or 86% say the same for social care settings. What’s more, 78% think face coverings should continue to be worn in shops, followed by a further 68% for hospitality and 66% for workplaces, like offices (note 2).

Support for sticking with social distancing is also high among respondents, with 78% believing that it should remain mandatory in healthcare settings and 75% agreeing for social care settings. On public transport, 75% think social distancing should continue (note 3).

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “If the Prime Minister does not continue to make mask wearing mandatory, we will see a sustained and even steeper rise in infection rates across the summer and beyond which will significantly impact on our NHS and result in more serious illness and hospitalisation – simply ‘expecting’ people to wear one is not good enough and sends out a confusing mixed message to the public". 

“We have soaring infection rates – the highest in Europe – which are already impacting the NHS, and we’ve seen the number of people in hospital beds and on ventilators double in the last month alone. Even a modest increase in the number of Covid-related hospitalisations places immense pressure on our overstretched health service trying to cope with a backlog of more than 5.3 million patients waiting for treatment. Allowing infections to escalate by removing all restrictions will mean more patients on waiting lists will suffer and wait longer for treatment. We have already seen at least one hospital cancelling treatment for cancer patients and other routine procedures and more will follow. This is before we even consider the impact of Long Covid". 

“Doctors are clear in their desire to protect the public’s health and our NHS by proven measures to control spread of this deadly virus. They want to see the legal requirement for wearing of face coverings retained not just in enclosed public spaces but also for patients and visitors and staff in hospitals and GP surgeries as well as social care settings". (note 4) 

“Doctors also want continued social distancing in waiting rooms and measures to ensure adequate ventilation in health care buildings. The BMA believes that July 19 is too early for all Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted, and that this should occur when the majority of the population have been double-vaccinated in the weeks to come. This clear message echoed by thousands of UK doctors goes to show just how seriously the Westminster Government must consider its next steps later today.” 

A consultant in acute medicine told the BMA: “We are already seeing significant numbers of the general public not wearing masks in hospitals and it terrifies us that this will become even more normal after 19th July. When our own fully vaccinated staff are becoming infected with the disease, the idea that mask wearing by the general public will become obsolete fills us all with dread". 

“Things are heating up in our hospital and I cannot see how we are going to cope come winter. We are now admitting around six Covid patients daily, some of whom are in their twenties and previously healthy. I know that colleagues in the maternity unit have also had to admit six pregnant women with Covid to ICU. We’ve converted one of the elderly wards back into a Covid ward and even our small side rooms are being used again for seriously ill patients.” 

ENDS 

Notes to editors The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives. 

1. A total of 2,478 doctors took part in the survey 

2. When asked, ‘Thinking about the next three months, which if any of the following settings would you wish for face coverings/masks to be mandatory to help limit spread of coronavirus in the population?

’90.97% (2,176 respondents) answered ‘yes’ to ‘healthcare settings (worn by clinical staff and patients where practical)’

86.16% (2,061) answered ‘yes’ to ‘social care settings (worn by staff and visitors where practical)’

89.97% (2,143) answered ‘yes’ to ‘public transport’

67.58% (1,609) answered ‘yes’ to ‘hospitality (when practical e.g. not consuming food or drink)

78.19% (1,853) answered ‘yes’ to ‘shops’66.01% (1,573) answered ‘yes’ to ‘workplaces (including offices)’  

3. When asked, ‘Thinking about the next three months, which if any of the following settings would you wish social distancing to be mandatory to help limit spread of coronavirus in the population?’ 

78.22% (1,868 respondents) answered ‘yes’ to ‘healthcare settings (by clinical staff and patients where practical)’

74.82% (1,786) answered ‘yes’ to ‘social care settings (by staff and visitors where practical)’

74.86% (1,784) answered ‘yes’ to ‘public transport’

64.95% (1,547) answered ‘yes’ to ‘hospitality (where practical e.g. not consuming food or drink)’

68.53% (1,627) answered ‘yes’ to ‘shops’

66.40% (1,583) answered ‘yes’ to ‘workplaces (including offices)’ 

4. Altogether, the BMA is calling for: 

- Ongoing requirements to wear a mask in enclosed public spaces, such as public transport, shops, healthcare settings and in communal areas in educational settings, where adequate ventilation and distancing are often not possible.

 - Significantly improved public messaging and education, emphasising that while the virus continues to circulate, practising social distancing and meeting outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces – and wearing masks when this is not possible – remains the best way to reduce risk of infection and keep yourself safe. 

- Greater guidance and support for businesses and educational settings to create sustainable, Covid-secure environments, as well as enforcement of standards.

- Emphasis on the importance of good ventilation, including setting legal standards. Financial and other support for businesses and educational settings must be made available to implement these requirements ahead of the autumn and winter period, when respiratory viruses spread more easily and buildings must be kept warm, limiting options for natural ventilation. 

Further information 

For media enquiries, please email mediaoffice@bma.org.uk or call 020 7383 6448.