NHS trusts were not consulted before the government announced changes to the use of face coverings and visitor policy in English hospitals, the chief executive of NHS Providers has said.
Chris Hopson said trust leaders felt “completely in the dark” about the “significant and complex” changes.
From 15 June, hospital visitors and outpatients must wear face coverings and staff must use surgical masks.
The Department of Health says masks can be provided by the hospital if needed.
A spokeswoman said that, while the public were “strongly urged” to wear a face covering while inside hospitals, no-one would be denied care.
Separately, NHS England has lifted the national suspension on hospital visiting with new guidance for NHS trusts.
The guidance, which states visiting will be subject to the discretion of individual trusts and other NHS bodies, advises measures to support visiting, such as:
- Although only one close family member or important contact can be at a patient’s bedside, if social distancing can be maintained, a second additional visitor could be permitted in certain circumstances
- Visitors should be told in advance what to expect when they see the patient and be advised about social distancing, wearing protective kit and hand washing
- Visitors must wear masks or face coverings at all times
- People with coronavirus symptoms should not visit
- Where a face-to-face visit is not practical, then a virtual visit should be supported and arranged
The Department of Health said trusts have all of next week to implement the changes and that it had made NHS England aware of the announcement before it was made public.
But Mr Hopson said the announcement by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Friday was “rushed out” with “absolutely no notice or consultation” of NHS trust leaders.
He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s the latest in a long line of announcements that have had a major impact on the way the NHS operates, in which frontline organisations feel they’ve been left completely in the dark, and they’re then expected to make significant and complex operational changes either immediately or with very little notice.”
He said trust leaders were worried there was not enough strategy or planning and that it felt like “last minute decisions are being made on the hoof that seem overly influenced by politics and that need to fill the space of the Downing Street press conferences”.
The announcement had left many unanswered questions, such as when it is appropriate for staff to wear face masks, the numbers of masks needed and how they would be distributed, he added.