Report by Tom Sheldrick
The Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, has insisted Boris Johnson followed NHS rules on face coverings despite being photographed without a mask during a visit to a Northumberland hospital.
The Prime Minister was spotted with his face uncovered during a visit to Hexham General Hospital on Monday 8 November.
However, Mr Raab said Mr Johnson had followed "all the protocols and procedures" while he was on the premises.
During an interview with ITV's Good Morning Britain, he said, "He followed the guidance that he got for the particular clinical settings as he went through the hospital and I'm told and I understand that he followed all the guidance that he had for that and he was wearing a mask in the areas where it was required."
However, Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, took to Twitter to criticise the Prime Minister, along with Good Morning Britain contributor Dr Hilary Jones who said it was "ridiculous" that the Prime Minister failed to set an example.
In a statement posted in response to questions on social media, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said Mr Johnson had worn a face covering in each of the clinical areas he visited.
"Please be assured that infection prevention and control remains an utmost priority for our trust," it said, "The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, followed strict measures, including wearing a mask, in each clinical area he visited."
The Coronavirus information and advice page on the trust's website, however, states face coverings must be worn "at all times" when visiting its hospitals. This is also repeated on the visitor information page.
A trust spokesperson said:
"The Prime Minister Boris Johnson followed strict measures, including wearing a mask, in each clinical area he visited."
Last week, Mr Johnson came under fire after he was pictured without a mask again at the COP26 climate change summit sitting alongside 95-year-old environmentalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.
From our Political Correspondent, Tom Sheldrick:We were the TV crew at Hexham General Hospital yesterday, as part of a routine 'pool' arrangement between major broadcasters for this kind of visit.
The first we saw of the Prime Minister, from the position we were taken to, he was walking along an atrium/corridor area inside the hospital, where he then spent around a minute speaking to several NHS workers.
They were wearing masks and he was not, and it's the press photographers' pictures at this point that have attracted attention.
Immediately after this, Boris Johnson was handed a mask - seemingly by one of his team. He said "mask on, come on, thank you" and put it on.
He then entered a more clinical area of the hospital, where he met more members of staff and several patients in different rooms over half an hour or so. He was wearing a mask at all times during our filming of this part of the visit.
The Prime Minister then took his mask off to do our TV interview, which was in a clinical room with a big CT scanner behind him, but no staff and patients using it. That was the last we saw of him.
Ultimately it would be good to know if discussions were had, either beforehand or on arrival, about whether he should wear a mask as he entered the hospital building. Either way, Mr Johnson is facing more criticism, particularly of the 'one rule for him, another for everyone else' variety, in what has already been a very bruising week for him politically.