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Strained GPs concerned by guidance on certificates for masks exemptions in schools

It has been recommended that masks be worn by children nine years and older.

LAST UPDATE | 1 Dec 2021

GPS HAVE EXPRESSED concerns about the capacity they have to provide certification to exempt children from wearing face masks after new rules on the measure came into effect today.

Children under the age of 13 have until now been exempt from mask requirements, with a few exceptions: some were asked to wear masks in healthcare settings, Covid-19 test centres, and if they were attending secondary school.

However, the Government decided yesterday that children aged nine and older will be required to wear masks in indoor settings, including schools, shops and public transport, subject to a review in mid-February.

Some exemptions will be granted, but GPs have said they are not confident that they are able to provide certificates on top of their current Covid-19 and non-Covid workload.

Monaghan-based GP Dr Ilona Duffy told The Journal that asking doctors to provide medical certificates for masks was “wasting time” when such exemptions may not even apply.

“We’re so busy today trying to do vaccinations, to keep up with Covid referrals, and to do our other work, and then these kind of calls come in and take time to deal with too,” she said.

“At some stage, we will have to recognise that without a functioning general practice service, people are going to become more unwell and potentially suffer adverse events because of it.”

Duffy also said that staff at her practice had been “abused” today by parents looking for medical certificates and had been told that they couldn’t get one without a valid reason.

“We’re getting loads of calls about it and I have to say, it’s deeply upsetting for staff here to be abused by patients like this, telling us ‘doctors are useless’ and ‘we’re not going to let this stand’,” she said.

“But we’re not going to be doing this because if mask-wearing is the guidance that’s being produced by public health and by NPHET, then we’re not going to be going against that.”

Dr Mary Favier, former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners and a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team, also said that there are “exceptionally few medical reasons” that would cause a person to be unable to wear a masks.

She said that in some cases, the reasons a parent might seek a certificate for a child under the guidance provided by the department have “no medical basis”.

Additionally, she said that GPs are “overwhelmed with the amount of Covid illness and non-Covid care”.

Yesterday’s decision by Government follows a recommendation by NPHET last week that face coverings should be worn by children aged nine and older, made in response to high levels of the incidence of the virus.

With reporting by Lauren Boland and Niall O’Connor.

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