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GP practices set to continue staff self-isolation despite government advice

by Caitlin Tilley
26 July 2021

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Local GP leaders have expressed their intention to continue with self-isolation requirements for practice staff, despite government guidance saying healthcare staff can continue working if identified as a Covid contact. 

GPs told Management in Practice’s sister title, Pulse, that their staffing had been badly affected by self-isolation absences due to receiving notifications from the NHS Covid app or the Test and Trace service.

However, LMC leaders said that despite this, practices would continue to abide by the advice to self-isolate when contacted because they did not wish to risk Covid outbreaks in their practices, which could lead to more staff being signed off, and danger to vulnerable patients.

The guidance also fails to acknowledge the well-being of clinically vulnerable practice staff, the Institute of Practice Management pointed out last week.

Since last Monday (19 July), double-vaccinated health and care workers can – after a risk assessment – return to work after a negative PCR test, while taking lateral flow tests every day for seven days.

The Government said this was to avoid absences crippling key services amid reports hundreds of thousands of people in England are being ‘pinged’ by the Covid app and required to isolate.

Doncaster LMC chief executive Dr Dean Eggitt said his practice has been affected by self-isolation absences, with five clinicians off last week.

However, he told Pulse: ‘It would cripple us if we had lots and lots of staff off, so we’re doing everything we possibly can to prevent that, which means not taking any risks. If there’s any risk a staff member might infect somebody, we send them home.’

Dr Eggitt said the practice has developed a good home working system during the pandemic. 

‘We are being cautious to ensure we can stay open in the future. The last thing we want is massive staff shortages.’

Liverpool LMC chair Dr Rob Barnett said that the committee is in discussions around issuing their own guidance to ensure all GP practices in the city are following the same rules. 

‘There is a lot of anxiety at the moment and we need a coordinated approach to this,’ he said. ‘I have a responsibility to my staff just as much as to my patients.

‘There have been problems in some parts of the city where large numbers of staff have been off. It’s not just because staff are isolating because of themselves, it is also in cases where staff’s children have been sent home from school to isolate. It all has a knock-on effect on how the workforce behaves.’

Kent LMC chair Dr Gaurav Gupta suggested the Government’s guidance ‘puts practices in a very difficult position’.

He said: ‘We have to be very careful that by not following the advice to self-isolate, we might be making the pandemic worse. We must balance the pandemic situation against being able to deliver essential services to the patient. It puts practices in a very different position.’

He added: ‘I think it will be something we decide on a case-by-case basis.’

Dr Dave Triska, a GP in Surrey, said his surgery will continue to practice self-isolation. They have had lots of staff and their families testing positive for Covid, so to ignore self-isolation rules ‘doesn’t seem sensible’. 

He said the practice’s plan is to ‘accept isolation and contain transmission, rather than having most of a surgery ill’.

‘Transmission rates are skyrocketing… much like turning off pings, exemptions ignore this,’ he added.

The Practice Managers Association (PMA), told Management in Practice that it endorses the government’s stance.

Ian Jones, operations director at the PMA, said: ‘We would support the NHS statement on [staff isolation] and feel that this provides GP practices with the right to allow not compel staff to work, and give them the scope to make localised decisions to ensure the best application of the advice.’