Practices can reduce social distancing from 2m to 1m providing the continued use of face coverings is in place, new infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance says.
The guidance from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which has taken over some of the work of Public Health England, says that practices will need to undertake local risk assessments to identify where physical distancing can be safely reduced.
'This decision will need to be based upon factors such as the configuration of premises, access, ventilation and so on,' the guidance adds.
The government asked the UKHSA to review the IPC guidance for primary care in a bid to help boost access to face-to-face appointments as part of the government's winter plans for general practice.
However, the new guidance does acknowledge that remote consultations will continue to have key role to play in primary care despite the change in social distancing recommendations.
'Face-to-face consultations can now go ahead where this is safe for patients and staff,' the guidance says. 'The decision about when to see patients face to face or through video consultation is for local clinical leaders based on a number of factors, including patient needs and preferences, configuration of premises, local capacity and the ability to ventilate spaces.'
The UKHSA said that face coverings will still be required for any patients attending the practice for a face-to-face appointment unless they are exempt. It also emphasises the importance of hand and respiratory hygiene and says that patients with symptoms of COVID-19 should phone their practice ahead of attending for an appointment.