Scottish Care welcomes steps which enhance a sense of increased ‘normality’ within care settings, which ultimately are people’s homes. However we are concerned about the language within this new guidance which indicates that the exercising of personal choice regarding the wearing of face masks is to cease.
As with all decision making in social care, individual choice and control must be prioritised and decisions based on informed consent, meaningful inclusion and balanced risk assessment. This guidance appears to fly in the face of this by only enabling face masks to be worn where clinical need and IPC measures require them . It does not recognise the wishes of those supported, their loved ones or staff to protect themselves or others through face mask wearing. If this is what supports people to feel safe at work or whilst being supported, any notion of a ban should be resisted.
It should also be noted that social care staff are not eligible for spring covid booster vaccines, despite ongoing vaccination being heralded in the guidance as the most effective route of protection. We know that this has led to some concerns amongst providers and staff, with anecdotal evidence of increased infection rates when booster vaccines would previously have been due.
Whilst we recognise that the wearing of face masks has implications for communication, finances and the environment and an emphasis on reduced use may be appropriate, we will not support the removal of choice for people to wear them should they wish to do so. Our members will continue to exercise and enable personal choice, allowing staff, families, residents and those supported in their own homes to wear masks if they should wish.
Scottish Care and its members were at the forefront of calling for the wearing of masks significantly before this was introduced during the pandemic. It is essential that lessons are learned from the pandemic experience in social care, including that blanket approaches which remove personal autonomy are almost always inappropriate and unacceptable.