NHS staff who test positive for covid must continue to stay away from work for at least five days, despite restrictions being lifted for the general public, NHS England has said this morning.
The letter from NHSE stated NHS staff and others working in hospitals must stay away from work until they have had two negative lateral flow tests 24 hours apart. The first of these can be taken on day five after testing positive, meaning the earliest staff can return will be on day six.
The letter added that both NHS staff and those working for subcontractors who are required to be physically present at an NHS site should continue to receive full pay if they cannot work because of a positive test.
Meanwhile, agencies should continue to ensure any staff supplied have not tested positive for covid and those testing positive in primary care should not be required to work.
The letter indicates further guidance on staff and patients exposed to covid is expected from the UK Health Security Agency tomorrow.
From tomorrow, the legal requirement for people with covid in England to self-isolate for at least five days is being dropped, although they will still be “encouraged” to do so. The £500 isolation payments and sick pay from day one for poorer workers will also be scrapped, prompting fears some workers would feel pressured to go to work following a positive test.
When the changes to the restrictions were announced on Monday, it was unclear how these requirements would relate to those working in the NHS.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “We’re pleased NHS England has re-emphasised the importance of self-isolation for NHS staff who have covid. The best way to guarantee this across the NHS is to ensure that free tests continue to be available for all NHS staff, with dedicated funded set aside.”
However, there is, as yet, no indication of what testing protocols will be for NHS staff, with the letter suggesting these will come “in the coming weeks”. Until then, NHS staff should be able to access tests through the “universal offer” online or through community pharmacies, with emergency supplies available through regional testing leads.
The cost of continuing with regular testing for NHS staff — such as the twice weekly lateral flow tests many were doing – is thought to have been behind a last-minute row between the Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Care before Monday’s announcement.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: ”“The current lack of clarity over future changes to staff testing is a cause of concern. Trusts expect a delay of several weeks while the specific detail of the various testing protocols for patients and staff are confirmed. In the meantime, trusts will continue following current testing protocols.
“Similarly, trust leaders are also awaiting further clarity on visitor restrictions, and guidance for staff and patients who have been exposed to covid-19 – both of which are important in preventing the spread of covid-19 in healthcare settings.”
The NHSE letter added visiting guidance is to be reviewed. There will also be no immediate changes to infection prevention and control requirements in the NHS including the need for staff, patients and visitors to wear masks.
During the omicron wave, many hospitals tightened visiting restrictions, in some cases requiring visitors to take lateral flow tests.