Boris Johnson followed NHS rules on face coverings despite being photographed without a mask during a hospital visit, deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has insisted.
The Prime Minister was pictured with his face uncovered during a visit to Hexham General Hospital on Monday.
However, Raab said Johnson had followed “all the protocols and procedures” while he was on the premises.
During an interview with BBC Breakfast, Raab was read the guidance from Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital.
He was told that it stated: “Anyone attending our hospitals and community settings must continue to wear a face covering at all times to protect patients, visitors and staff.”
Raab responded: “I know the Prime Minister took the advice on the clinical setting that he was in and followed all the protocols and procedures that were applied there, and that’s what everyone should do.”
Asked about the guidance specifically and whether that meant Johnson was not following the rules, Raab said: “No, precisely because, as you said, in the settings where it was required he did wear a mask.”
However, ITV Good Morning Britain contributor Dr Hilary Jones said it was “ridiculous” that the Prime Minister failed to set an example.
“He should have been wearing a mask. He should have been setting an example, especially in a hospital when today’s headlines scream 11,000 people caught Covid in a hospital.
“It’s ridiculous. Nobody had the guts to say ‘Prime Minister, put a mask on or you can’t come in.’ That’s what should have happened.”
In a statement posted on social media, the trust said 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 latest row came after Johnson was pictured last week at the COP26 climate change summit sitting alongside 95-year-old environmentalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.
A No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister followed the Covid measures that were in place throughout his visit, including wearing a mask in all clinical areas. He also took a PCR test before the visit.
“The hospital trust has issued a statement making clear the PM followed its guidelines.”