Appeal from BMA chiefs as more people ignoring face mask rules

Doctors have appealed to people to wear a mask when in a healthcare setting unless there is a valid reason for not wearing one.

The British Medical Association said many doctors across Northern Ireland are reporting an increasing number of patients and visitors are not wearing masks and are also refusing to be tested for Covid before attending hospital appointments or when attending emergency departments.

Dr David Farren, deputy chair of BMA Northern Ireland’s consultants committee, said: “We are seeing an increasing number of patients who are refusing to wear face coverings, which remain a requirement in government-owned buildings, and are refusing to have a Covid test when attending hospital for assessment or admission.

“This is extremely challenging for medical staff because we then have to treat these patients as if they have Covid, but we cannot mix them with other Covid patients as that would risk actually giving them Covid if they don’t have it.

The wearing of face masks is compulsory in all government-owned buildings except for a medical exemption

“This puts additional demand on our beds which are already under significant pressure, and also risks exposing staff, patients and visitors to potential Covid.

“We have also had increasing reports of aggressive behaviour towards our staff when challenging those who refuse to wear masks without a medical exemption.

“I would urge anyone attending hospital who can wear a mask to please do so to protect themselves and others.

“Staff will challenge this if you do not, and it is unacceptable for this to be met with aggression. Testing before assessment or admission is equally important.

Dr David Farren

“I fully acknowledge that the swabs are not pleasant, but it is essential that anyone who is coming for assessment or admission to hospital is tested if we are to prevent spread of Covid-19 within our hospitals.”

Dr Alan Stout from the BMA GP committee added: “GPs have worked extremely hard to keep their premises open and Covid safe for both patients and practice staff.

“Increasingly we are being challenged by patients who simply don’t want to wear a mask, not because they have a valid exemption.

“Our staff and GPs are just trying to do their job and ensure everyone’s safety.

“Having to make special arrangements for people refusing to wear a mask is extremely difficult and time consuming and takes staff away from other tasks that need completed.

“We have some very vulnerable patients attending our surgeries and it is vital that we do everything we can to ensure their safety and confidence.”

The appeal comes as three further deaths of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland yesterday.

The Department of Health said there had also been 1,294 new confirmed cases of the virus in the last 24-hour reporting period.