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SA Health makes 'common sense' change to mask requirement

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Confusion around the type of face mask required for anyone attending a healthcare setting will finally be cleared up – with SA Health forced to remove a stipulation from its directions that the mask has to be surgical grade.

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This means patients and visitors will now be able to wear cloth masks, in a move described as “common sense” by the state’s peak doctors’ group.

It comes after conflicting messaging from SA Health and concerns from doctors and healthcare workers that it would be impractical and costly for patients and visitors to have to wear surgical masks.

Masks yesterday became mandatory in all healthcare, aged care and disability support settings.

The written direction had stated the masks must be “a single-use surgical mask” – and practitioners had been sent information saying the same.

But when asked about it yesterday, chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said “no we didn’t put a stipulation around that” for patients and visitors.

However, even after her comments, healthcare workers were still being sent official updates from SA Health, signed by deputy chief public health officer Dr Emily Kirkpatrick, stating: “Everyone (including patients, patients’ family members, healthcare staff, administrative staff, contractors and cleaning staff) is required to wear single use surgical masks when on healthcare sites.”

The Australian Medical Association said it would be a “big impost” for medical practices to wear the cost of providing surgical face masks for all patients and visitors.

An Adelaide psychologist, who didn’t want to be identified, told InDaily she’d had to go out and spend hundreds of dollars buying surgical face masks for her patients at the last minute after receiving advice from SA Health late on Monday that the masks had to be surgical.

She also said some of her patients had cancelled sessions because of the confusion.

“The changes in information and differing claims are upsetting to clients and myself,” she said.

“The situation is confusing given that the Government (is) ‘easing restrictions’ yet tightening them in healthcare.

“Clients are contacting me upset and distressed at these last minute changes.

“Those who are coming in mostly are coming in with cloth masks and I’m handing them surgical masks and wearing the cost.”

But this morning Spurrier told reporters the surgical mask requirement had been “an oversight” and was being amended today.

“We had to put this direction in fairly quickly,” she said.

“One of the things was that it had stipulated surgical face masks. They are very useful in particular settings but one of the things we want to clarify was that it could be any face mask.”

Spurrier said lawyers were now redrafting the direction “and we will have that out later today”.

“Instead of stipulating surgical face masks, it will just say face masks,” she said.

“But… organisations such as a hospital might require through their own policy to have surgical face masks.”

Spurrier was asked about reports of people – including elderly South Australians – being turned away from chemists for not wearing surgical masks.

She said the updated direction would ensure “that won’t be the case”.

“People will be able to have a cloth face mask,” she said.

 However, she added: “It may be that certain chemists decide to keep with surgical face masks – that is up to them because it’s their building but I’m perfectly comfortable with cloth face masks in most circumstances.”

Spurrier also said the direction included a clause that allowed healthcare sites and practitioners to allow some patients not to wear masks, in individual circumstances, if they believed it was more appropriate.

Australian Medical Association state president Dr Chris Moy told InDaily the change to allow patients and visitors to wear cloth masks was “common sense”.

“The AMA has worked constructively with SA Health to resolve a situation which was going to be impractical and a barrier to patients seeking care,” he said.

“It balances the need to prevent spread of infection and the need to not impede patients’ access to care.”

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