NHS staff who test positive for coronavirus can leave isolation and return to work, if they test negative on days five and six, in line with national changes to guidance, it has been confirmed.
The UK Health Security Agency confirmed on Friday that the guidance to reduce self-isolation from six days after a positive test, following two consecutive negative lateral flow tests on day five and six, would also apply to health and social care staff from today (17 January).
It comes as the NHS grapples with very high levels of absence, driven up by covid-related reasons linked to the wide spread of omicron.
The government announced earlier last week that the isolation rules would be changed for the general population following a government announcement, which NHS Confederation described as a “pragmatic move”.
An email update from NHS England chief operating officer Sir David Sloman to NHS leaders on Friday said that if a staff member tests negative on day six and was negative 24 hours earlier they can return to work on day six, as long as they are also medically fit.
“To mitigate any potential increased risk of transmission, we require that all NHS staff then continue to test daily to day 10 after their initial positive test and stop at day 10 unless they remain or test positive,” Sir David said.
”For those who continue to test positive, if at day 10 they still test positive they must continue to isolate and continue to daily LFD test until a negative result or until day 14. If still positive at that point it is considered unlikely that they are infectious so they can return to work, providing they are medically fit,” he said.
He confirmed there would be no change to testing of staff who are contacts of someone with confirmed covid and reassured leaders there was “sufficient supply” to support any increase in testing.
”In extremis, regional testing leads will have a small supply of tests to be accessed on an emergency basis,” he added.
Isolation rules for health and care staff have at times been more strict than in the general population, with household contacts having to take a period off work between August and mid December last year, even though the general public did not have to isolate. This was due to concern about nosocomial infection.
Rules for patients and residents in health and care settings remain stricter, with cases and contacts both having to be isolated/cohorted for 14 days.