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Alert Coronavirus / COVID-19

If you have a new continuous cough, a high temperature, or a loss or change to your sense of taste or smell, do not come to our hospitals. Follow the national advice on coronavirus (COVID-19).

Please find information on our services and visiting restrictions in our COVID-19 section.

Patients and visitors must wear a face covering in our hospitals.

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COVID-19 staff faqs: wearing face masks in our hospitals

Information alert box Last updated: 25 April 2022

This is a fast moving situation and we will try to keep this page as up-to-date as possible.
Please continue to check national guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government has set out guidance that says that all staff in NHS hospitals need to wear face masks unless in a COVID-secure area. We have outlined some of the most common questions below and will keep this updated as the situation evolves.

If your question is not answered below, and you are a member of staff, please speak to your line manager or email

If your question is about an OUH HR matter that isn't addressed here, please discuss this initially with your line manager who can then raise it with the HR consultant for your Division.

Some links are to documents on the OUH internal staff intranet: if you are a staff member and cannot access the intranet, please email and we will send you the document you need.

Please remember guidance is likely to change rapidly, so check back to see if you have the most up-to-date version of a document.

Face mask FAQ

Do all staff need to wear a face mask?

Yes. All staff - clinical or non-clinical - need to wear a face mask when at work, and when moving between different areas. This applies to staff working in all of our hospital sites.

Please remember - wearing a face mask does not replace social distancing and good hand hygiene. You should continue to practise these while wearing a face mask.

Tips for wearing face masks (pdf, 271 KB)

Poster to print out: follow this guidance at all times (pdf, 158 KB)

Do the rules on wearing a face mask in our hospitals apply to just NHS staff or everyone who works in the hospital?

They apply to everyone working on our hospital sites including workers in our retail units, PFI staff, those employed by the University of Oxford and contractors. Visitors and patients need to wear a face covering or a face mask.

What is the difference between a face covering and a face mask?

A face mask is designed and manufactured to be used in a healthcare setting.

A face covering is not designed for the same uses, and is made from fabric or cloth and should cover your mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably..

Can I just wear a face covering while at work?

No - while at work use a face mask.

When can I wear a face covering, rather than a mask?

You can wear a face covering - so the fabric covering, rather than the mask - when travelling to and from work (face coverings are mandatory on public transport), or in areas where social distancing is difficult, such as in supermarkets.

You should not wear a face covering instead of a face mask when moving around our hospitals if at all possible.

Where do I get my mask(s) from?

Staff working in clinical areas already have access to face mask supplies, and should continue to access stock in the normal way.

Masks are available from main entrances, main reception areas and ward receptions.

How do I wear a face mask correctly?

  • Wash or sanitise your hands before putting it on
  • Ensure the mask goes up to the bridge of your nose and all the way down under your chin
  • Tighten the loops or ties so it's snug around your face
  • Avoid touching your face, or the parts of the mask that cover your nose and mouth
  • Wash or sanitise your hands before taking it off
  • Use the ear loops to take the mask off and wash or sanitise your hands afterwards.

How long do I have to wear each mask for before changing to a new one?

There is no set time, nor recommended number of masks you should use each day. It all depends on what you are doing.

However, if your mask gets dirty, wet or damaged, or if you touch the inside of it, then you should change to a new one (following the steps above).

When you take it off to eat or drink, you should dispose of the old mask, wash or sanitise your hands, and replace it with a new one once you have finished eating.

Do I need to wear a mask if I work in a private workspace where I work alone?

No, if you are working alone you will not be expected to wear a mask - but when you leave the private work area to move through the hospital building, for example on an errand or to get some lunch - you should put on a face mask.

What is a COVID-secure area?

A COVID-secure area is one where:

  • social distancing can be maintained at all times, with staff two metres apart
  • staff have easy access to hand washing and/or hand sanitising facilities
  • the area is regularly cleaned.

Staff do not necessarily need to wear a mask if all of these conditions are met at all times, however this is subject to a workplace risk assessment and must be fully documented.

The Workplace Safety Managers Guide and Workplace Risk Assessment is available in the Health and Safety Document Library on the staff intranet.

I have a health condition and don't want to wear a face mask. What do I need to do?

In most cases face masks are safe for anyone to wear, regardless of health conditions, and all staff working on hospital sites are now expected under national guidance to wear face masks in our hospital buildings unless they are in a COVID-secure area (see above). This applies to both clinical and non-clinical staff and to contractors and anyone else working on our sites. Anyone who is not able to wear a face mask should not be working on site.

In corridors, lifts, on staircases and in any other communal areas staff are expected to wear masks. For those not used to wearing masks, they can initially feel restrictive, hot and uncomfortable, but for most, these feelings will improve in the short-term.

What happens if I refuse to wear a mask?

Like all hospitals, we are asking all members of staff to wear masks to help limit the spread of COVID-19, and keep people safe.

This is in line with Government guidance.

We encourage all staff to challenge others who have forgotten their face mask, to politely remind them of the need to wear one. There are face masks available at most hospital entrances. If we are not wearing a mask we should expect to be challenged and to put one on.

If you have concerns, please speak to your line manager.

What happens if I have an allergic reaction to a mask?

Face masks have been used in hospitals for years, and very few staff experience problems. However, if you do experience problems, speak to your line manager in the first instance.

Our Occupational Health team can also help you assess and manage this - you can also look at their guidance document (pdf, intranet link).

In the very unlikely event you experience an allergic reaction, please seek medical attention.

What can we do if we're speaking to or caring for someone who is deaf or hard of hearing when wearing a face mask?

Identify which patient has hearing loss, and ensure a plan is put in place for how you are going to communicate with them.

Make sure you are facing the patient you are speaking to and speak clearly - avoid shouting, or speaking too fast or too slowly.

Write things down - use pen and paper, a white board, or text on device screens.

For patients who still have some hearing, make sure the environment is quiet and speak loudly and clearly.

If the patient uses a hearing aid, make sure they are wearing their hearing aid and the battery is working.

Use simple gestures, and sign language if known.

If someone doesn't understand you, repeat what you said or phrase it differently - remember to use plain language.

Is it ever acceptable to remove your face mask for any reason (e.g. having an asymptomatic swab) and then replace the same mask?

Once a face mask is removed from the face, it should be thrown away and replaced with a new mask due to the risk of contamination of hands/surfaces with respiratory droplets.

If you have to leave a clinical area, should you change your mask as you leave, leaving the used mask in a clinical waste bin?

If the face mask has been worn 'clinically' the mask should be disposed in a clinical waste bin before leaving the clinical area.

Is it ever acceptable to keep a face mask on once leaving work to use on the bus etc. or should all masks be disposed of when leaving the Trust's grounds?

No, face masks are for use on hospital premises and should be disposed of before leaving the Trust. Face coverings should be worn on public transport.

Face coverings for patients FAQ

Do patients have to wear face covering at all times?

We are asking outpatients and members of the public to wear a face covering at all times.

There are some exceptions, which include children under five years old, and people with learning difficulties.

We will continue to revisit this.

What if a patient turns up without a face covering?

If a patient turns up at our hospitals without a face covering, they should be supplied with a face mask. However, we are encouraging patients to bring their own face coverings in the first instance.

What does this mean for pregnant women during appointments and labour?

As inpatients, women in labour are managed under different guidance. Women in hospital setting as outpatients to antenatal or postnatal appointments will need to wear a face covering under the guidance.

What if an outpatient / visitor is unable to wear a face covering?

For some, wearing of a face covering may be difficult, and therefore all other measures must also be considered and introduced. This could include social or physical distancing, timed appointments, being seen immediately, and not kept in waiting rooms.