Leading GP urges people ‘do NOT’ ask doctors for mask exemption letter

Dr Alan Stout, a GP and BMA leader in NI.Dr Alan Stout, a GP and BMA leader in NI.
Dr Alan Stout, a GP and BMA leader in NI.
A GPs’ representative in Northern Ireland has urged people not to invite conflict with their doctor by asking for a Covid facemask exemption letter.

In a hard-hitting Twitter message on Thursday evening, Dr Alan Stout said GPs had no desire to assist the spread of coronavirus by providing “tenous” exemptions.

Dr Stout, who is the chair of the Northern Ireland GP committe of the BMA, made his plea in response to a message from the NI Department of Health – which reminded people that a face covering in indoor public spaces is a legal requirement, and that “abuse of [GP] staff will not be tolerated”.

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Dr Stout said: “Very important and to stress do NOT contact your GP for letter. We do not want to get into conflict with our patients (vast majority of whom should wear a mask), and do not want to become complicit in spread of infection by providing any tenuous exemption.”

Dr Stout’s appeal provoked a number of responses.

One Twitter user said: “Alan i don’t want to annoy you as you’ve been superb, beyond great during this pandemic, and you get so much abuse! But I’m begging that someone – anyone – provide exemptions for those who are actually exempt.

“Surely by not providing the exemptions the people chancing their arm.”

Dre Stout replied: “It’s a good point, although exemption only needed if enforcement. The exemptions are actually pretty easy, we know most of them well in practice and could do proactively.

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“It’s the others that create the difficulty (as you can see from my replies!).”

On Thursday, the Department of Health statement said: “With community transmission of Covid-19 at an all-time high, the Executive is urging everyone not to let their guard down, get boosted, test and report.

“The Executive received an update today from our medical and scientific advisors on the latest public health situation. As expected, the highly infectious nature of the Omicron variant has led to a dramatic increase in the number of positive cases. The number of cases is expected to remain very high for the next few weeks.”

The statement concludes: “As well as getting vaccinated, taking up the booster and regular testing – we ask everyone to limit your social contacts and work from home if possible. This will reduce the opportunities for the virus to spread.

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“Meet outdoors if you can. If meeting indoors, make sure the rooms are well ventilated.

“Wear a face covering in public indoor spaces. Not only is this a legal requirement but it keeps others and you safer. The grace period for proving an exemption on medical grounds has been extended to allow further work on logistical issues involved in obtaining proof of exemption, including engagement with relevant groups. However, this is a vital mitigation in preventing virus transmission and we urge everyone who can wear a face covering to do so without delay.

“Do not contact your GP for a letter of exemption. GPs are not providing this service and abuse of staff will not be tolerated.”

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