Must be no corners cut says RCM as working restrictions for staff advised to self-isolate eased
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has said that service user and staff safety must be the top priority, following the easing of restrictions preventing NHS staff and other key workers from working if they have been close to someone with COVID-19.
New guidance issued last week by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that staff who have had both vaccinations, and whose absence from work would mean significant risk of harm, can continue to work under exceptional circumstances. The rule applies only to those who are asymptomatic and not if they have tested positive for COVID-19. It also only applies to attending work and those affected must continue to self-isolate outside of work.
The guidance also comes with several caveats. These include the need for 14 days to have passed since the second vaccination, to continue to self-isolate until after a negative PCR test, along with daily lateral flow tests, and the need for local risk assessments.
“We know the situation in our maternity services and wider NHS is close to boiling point, with staff absences due to COVID or self-isolating putting even more pressure on those still working,” said Sean O’Sullivan, Head of Health and Social Policy at the RCM. “However, safety must be the priority and there must be no corners cut or pressure placed on NHS staff to come into work if they are not comfortable to do so. The guidance is clear that there are a lot of conditions that need to be met before staff who are self-isolating are able to come in to work.”
Describing this as a short-term measure, the DHSC statement says that local NHS organisations must balance the risk of passing on the virus, against continuing to deliver critical services. The decision to allow affected staff to work must be authorised by the organisation’s most senior infection control lead. Staff must continue to follow their employer’s infection control guidance and cannot work with clinically extremely vulnerable people as determined by their organisation.
Announcing the move Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said, “Throughout this global pandemic, critical workers across the country have been doing the extraordinary by delivering vital services – from policing the streets to keeping our transport links open. These individuals form the backbone of many of our most vital services and, as we learn to live with this virus, it’s right we do everything in our power to protect services from disruption by allowing our fully vaccinated critical workers to keep doing their important work.”
The RCM is keen to stress that this is a decision that needs discussion between employee and employer before it happens. “To do this or not must be mutually agreed by the staff member and their employer, and the process leading to this must be fair, open and transparent,” said Sean O’Sullivan.
The Government’s guidance can be read at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/frontline-health-and-care-staff-can-work-rather-than-self-isolate.