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Watch: Boris Johnson visits Northumbria hospital
An NHS Trust has defended Boris Johnson after he was criticised for not wearing a face mask during a hospital visit.
The prime minister was visiting Hexham hospital in Northumbria on Monday when several photographs were released showing him without a face covering while talking to NHS workers. Multiple pictures also showed Johnson wearing a mask at other points during the day.
Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth condemned the PM for "irresponsibly parading round a hospital without a mask".
He added: "Patients and NHS staff deserve better than this."
It is not the first time Johnson has faced backlash over his mask wearing etiquette recently; last week, he was criticised at the opening of COP26 opening ceremony after he was seen maskless sitting next to the 95-year-old broadcaster and natural historian, Sir David Attenborough.
Official NHS guidance for Hexham hospital, which is part of the Northumbria Trust, says: "Anyone attending our hospitals and community settings must continue to wear a face-covering at all times to protect patients, visitors and staff.
"We urge you to bring your own face covering, whether bought or home-made, however masks will be available if you do not have one.
"Please do not remove it unless advised to do so by a medical professional. Try to ensure you have no gaps in the sides of your face covering and avoid touching it."
Watch: Boris Johnson left baffled after being confronted over being maskless next to David Attenborough
However, the hospital defended Johnson and sought to reassure the public he was following the rules.
The Northumbria NHS said: "Please be assured that infection prevention and control remains an utmost priority for our Trust.
"The Prime Minister Boris Johnson followed strict measures, including wearing a mask, in each clinical area he visited."
Despite this, there was an online backlash with critics highlighting it comes at a time when COVID-19 case rates and hospital admissions are climbing nationally.
Deepti Gurdasani, a senior lecturer in epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London, said: "The irresponsibility of not wearing a mask in a hospital- around HCWs [healthcare workers] who come into contact with vulnerable patients. This is our PM. It wasn't worth this small sacrifice to protect others - in a hospital. None of us would be allowed in without a mask. So why has he?"
Kit Yates, a biologist at the University of Bath, said: "This really is grotesque. Taking precautions like tucking in your tie and rolling up sleeves in a health care setting, but being so committed to your ideology that you won’t wear a mask in a pandemic.It makes me sick, and more importantly it might make vulnerable others sick."
Last week, when Johnson was challenged by CNN's Christiane Amanpour over why he failed to wear a face covering while sitting next to Sir David Attenborough for a prolonged period of time, he appeared to stumble over his words.
"I've been wearing masks in confined spaces with people I don't normally talk to," he said.
"It's up to people to take a judgment whether they're at a reasonable distance from someone ... that's the approach we take."
Johnson has been accused of using the hospital visit to dodge parliament as MPs debated parliamentary standards following the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal.
“Boris Johnson today had the chance to answer for his mistakes, apologise to the country and act to put them right. Instead he did what he always does - ran away," said Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
“This Phileas Fogg-impersonating PM would go 80 ways around the world to avoid scrutiny, and he pretty much has. Any time there are questions to be answered, he’s off on his travels again.
“Britain deserves better than the corruption and cowardice of this Government.”
Paterson was found guilty of "egregious" breaches of lobbying rules by the independent parliamentary standards watchdog after their report found Paterson to have breached the MPs code of conduct after two firms paid him a sum total of £112k a year.
He was handed a 30-day suspension, however government moved to prevent the suspension by proposing changes to rules - which included reforming the watchdog to a committee with a Tory majority.
However, after public outcry and opposition MPs refusing to serve on the new committee, the government announced a U-turn; shortly after, Paterson resigned.
Today, the prime minister refused to apologise - and international trade secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, defended Johnson's lack of attendance to the debate this morning claiming he was focusing on more "important" issues.
Watch: We were 'trying' to look at misconduct process, says Boris Johnson