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IPC guidance: social distancing no longer required in healthcare settings

by Caitlin Tilley
20 April 2022

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Social distancing is no longer ‘routinely required’ in GP practices and other healthcare settings says new infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance.

The new guidance published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) last week said that healthcare settings including GP practices should risk assess whether ‘standard infection control precautions’ such as hand hygiene and PPE are needed.

This could include screening, triaging and testing patients for Covid infection.

But the guidance added that ‘transmission-based precautions’ such as physical distancing are ‘not routinely required’.

IPC guidance is issued jointly by UKHSA, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHS England, Public Health Wales (PHW), Public Health Agency (PHA) Northern Ireland and NHS National Services Scotland.

In a letter sent to trusts and CCGs outlining the changes, NHS England said that the updated guidance ‘takes into account UKHSA’s latest assessment of the scientific evidence’ as well as ‘feedback from local providers on the ongoing impact on capacity that IPC measures are having’.

It added: ‘In line with the flexibility afforded for local risk-assessment within the UK IPC guidance, and advice from UKHSA, the following should also be noted: 

  • ‘Returning to pre-pandemic physical distancing in all areas, including in emergency departments, ambulances and patient transport, as well as all primary care, inpatient and outpatient settings. This should be done in a way that maintains compliance with all relevant Health Technical Memoranda and Health Building Notes. 
  • ‘Returning to pre-pandemic cleaning protocols outside of Covid-19 areas, with enhanced cleaning only required in areas where patients with suspected or known infection are being managed.‘

The changes ‘signal a step in the transition back to pre-pandemic IPC measures’, NHS England said.

It added that providers must implement instructions set out in an IPC manual for England that it published alongside its letter last week ‘as soon as possible’.

NHS England stressed that all patients, staff and visitors should continue to practise good hand and respiratory hygiene including the continued use of face masks.

All current ‘triaging and cohorting arrangements’ outlined in the IPC guidance will also continue to apply, it said.

The IPC guidance also reiterated that all staff should be ‘vigilant for any signs of respiratory infection and should not come to work if they have respiratory symptoms’.

This article was first published on our sister title Pulse.