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Prime Minister's maskless hospital visit 'very hard to take'

Wednesday, November 10th, 2021 3:16pm

By Eddie Bisknell, Local Democracy Reporter @EddieBisk

A Derbyshire NHS chief has said the sight of Prime Minister Boris Johnson appearing not to be wearing a mask while visiting a hospital was "very hard to take". 

Tracy Allen, who has been the chief executive at the Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust for more than a decade, shared her reaction on Twitter.

On Monday, November 8, photos were published which appear to show Boris Johnson maskless during a visit to Hexham General Hospital, in Northumberland.

NHS protocols are for staff, patients and visitors to wear a face mask, unless exempt, whenever they visit a healthcare facility.

Mr Johnson was also pictured appearing to carry out his signature”elbow bump”, a replacement of a handshake.

Derbyshire NHS trusts have stressed the importance of this stance on a regular basis since the legal duty to wear face masks was dropped in most public places in mid-July – from so-called Freedom Day.

Ms Allen wrote on Twitter on November 9: “Seeing our Prime Minister in a hospital without a mask is very hard to take given all our DCHS and Joined Up Care Derbyshire commitment to NHS infection prevention controls.

“And excuses about his compliance in clinical settings flies in face of local experience regarding transmission risk in non-clinical settings.”

Derby nurse Amy Sims, who manages the county’s school-age immunisation service, commented on Ms Allen’s post.

She wrote on Twitter: “He wouldn’t have gone in my clinical area without one! Or done the ridiculous elbow bump! I imagine there are some strong regrets from the trust!”

No 10 said Mr Johnson followed the guidelines set by the local NHS trust, the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

The trust’s own guidelines say: “Anyone attending our hospitals and community settings must continue to wear a face-covering at all times to protect patients, visitors and staff.”

It said after the images of Mr Johnson appeared online that the Prime Minister had followed guidance by “wearing a mask in each clinical area he visited”.

Downing Street said: “As the hospital trust has made clear, the Prime Minister followed the Covid measures that are in place during his visit, including wearing a mask in all clinical areas.”

Ms Allen’s reference to local experience around the risk of transmission risk in non-clinical areas refers to a number of Covid outbreaks at DCHS facilities last year. Some of these were tied to staff mingling in breakrooms and offices – not on their respective wards or other clinical areas.

An outbreak which started on October 19, 2020, saw four staff test positive for Covid and it was traced back to the shared team office of the rapid response nursing team and Erewash enhanced team.

A second outbreak started on October 20, in the south area community response team with two staff members testing positive for the virus. This, too, was linked to a shared office.

The organisation said the outbreaks had led to a range of new lessons learned, including maintaining social distancing at break times and staggering these breaks to avoid a build-up of staff.

Michelle Bateman, the trust’s director of nursing, said in July, when restrictions for face masks outside of healthcare facilities changed: “We must keep these safety measures in place in our hospitals, clinics and surgeries to help protect everyone but particularly because we are looking after some of the frailest people in our communities.

“Please can I thank everyone in advance for their support in continuing to wear their masks as well as in observing the two-metre-apart rule and washing or sanitising hands frequently.

“These are our best precautions against inadvertently spreading Covid to some of those who would be most vulnerable to infection.”

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