Practice managers and those leading other NHS organisations are to assess if staff should self-isolate on a ‘case-by-case’ basis, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced.
From today (19 July), double vaccinated NHS and social care staff can attend work rather than self-isolate if they have been identified as a close contact via NHS Test and Trace or the NHS Covid-19 app.
In these cases, staff will need have a negative PCR test and take daily negative lateral flow tests for a minimum of seven days, the DHSC said.
However, it said: ‘The decision to allow NHS and social care staff to attend work after being told to self-isolate should be made on a case-by-case basis, and only after a risk assessment by the organisation’s management.’
This comes one month ahead of the Government’s plan to scrap self-isolation for all fully-vaccinated people identified as close contacts of someone with Covid-19.
The DHSC further clarified that the Government is ‘clear’ that this change applies only in cases ‘where their absence may lead to a significant risk of harm’.
This risk assessment must also be authorised by the organisation’s local Director of Infection Prevention and Control, the lead professional for health protection, or the Director of Public Health relevant to the organisation.
These staff members should also not work with clinically extremely vulnerable patients as determined by the organisation and will still have a ‘legal duty’ to self-isolate outside of work.
It added: ‘Careful consideration should be given by local NHS and social care organisations to the risk of onward transmission compared to the risk to delivery of critical services.’
Services struggling with rising cases
Trade union GMB criticised the measure for failing to consider staff welfare.
It said that the NHS has been operating under ‘extreme pressures with chronic staff shortages, fatigue and exhaustion’ throughout the pandemic.
‘Yet today – the Government’s so called Freedom Day – they have had to issue exemptions for staff as services struggle to cope with rising cases,’ it said.
‘Ministers have no regard for the welfare of staff at all. That’s apparent, as the guidelines only exempt staff from self-isolation to attend work, and not outside of work.
‘If this is a safe thing to do, why does it also come with the caveat of not being able to work with clinically extremely vulnerable people?’
The announcement comes after an uncertain week regarding the use of face masks and social distancing in general practice beyond 19 July, with NHS England confirming only on Thursday (15 July) that these measures would remain mandatory.
Meanwhile, a survey has shown a number of trusts have declared ‘black alerts’, meaning they are unable to safely deliver services to patients, which in turn is ‘overwhelming primary care in some parts of the country’.