GP practices will need to risk assess isolating asymptomatic staff who remain positive for Covid-19 on lateral flow tests (LFTs) after ten days, before they return to work, NHS England has said.
The news was confirmed this weekend in a letter sent to practices (8 January), ahead of new national guidance which will see confirmatory PCR tests suspended in some cases.
New UKHSA guidance, effective tomorrow (11 January), will remove the need to confirm a positive LFT result with a PCR test, with asymptomatic people instead required to self-isolate immediately.
The suspension does not apply to people who are symptomatic, who will still need to isolate and take a PCR test.
Since December, isolating staff have been able to return to work after seven days, following two negative LFTs taken 24 hours apart.
But those who continued testing positive after 10 days had been told to test daily and could not return to work until they received a negative result.
However, NHSE has now said that asymptomatic staff members should now undergo a risk assessment ‘with a view to return to work’ if their LFT is still positive on day 10.
It said: ‘We are aware that with current staff absence levels organisations will at times need to risk assess isolating staff to allow them to return to work on a balance of risk basis (for those who remain LFD [lateral flow device] positive on or after day 10).’
Meanwhile, fully vaccinated healthcare staff who are contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case should arrange to have a PCR test and should take LFTs for the next 10 days.
Those who are not fully vaccinated must self-isolate, it added.
The decision comes as general practice is experiencing both a staffing crisis – with as many as 21% of doctors self-isolating over the last two weeks – and limited access to LFTs.
The NHS Confederation last week called for the Government to review the self-isolation period to see if it could be safely cut to five days.
‘Protect NHS staff’ as UK marks 150,000 Covid deaths
It comes as the UK this weekend became the first country in Europe to record 150,000 total Covid deaths, leading the BMA to call for support to keep NHS staff safe.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said that Omicron was causing ‘soaring NHS staff absences’ across hospitals and general practice, with a direct impact on care available to patients.
He said: ‘It is vital that NHS staff are protected from infection at work in order to reduce staff illness and absences. This is exactly why we’re calling for higher-grade respirator PPE masks, which can filtrate airborne spread of the virus which normal surgical masks do not.’
He added that the Government must ‘do all it can to get control of Omicron with immediate public health measures’ to protect the health service and the public.
Last week, the BMA advised GPs to wear FFP2 face masks ‘as default’ when consulting patients face to face.