A number of College members have enquired if they can insist that a patient entering their practice can be asked why they are not wearing a mask and then make a clinical decision as to whether they should wear one whilst in the practice. The particular concerns are for the health and safety of practice staff.
The Ministry of Health (the Ministry) has issued new rules around mask exemptions and although they look to tighten who can make a claim, the reality is that there appears to be no substantial change.
The new exemption cards will be personalised and legally valid; however existing cards can still be used. However, there is no legal requirement for a person to carry or show their card when asked. The Ministry goes further and warns that anyone questioning a non-mask wearer about their eligibility may be at risk of contravening the Human Rights Act.
The Ministry has published a number of possible grounds for claiming an exemption and the reality is that virtually anyone can have one. The one possible exception is that you can’t use the excuse that you are philosophically opposed to wearing a mask.
There is a significant fine if a person fraudulently uses an exemption card, but we assume that relates to someone creating their own. The reality is that it is so easy to obtain an exemption card legally, there is very little chance that someone would bother to create a fraudulent one. Under these circumstances the College suggests that practices might like to place a notice in their reception area stating:
This practice respects that some people are not able to routinely wear a mask and they have an exemption for this. However, both our practice staff and other patients are in a particularly vulnerable situation with unmasked patients entering the building.
For those who have an exemption, it would be appreciated if you would consider wearing a mask for the short duration that you are here.
If you are unable to wear a mask, we will insist that you remain separated from other patients by at least two metres.