Previous NHS guidance from August said if the employee was “living directly (same household) with a positive covid-19 case, they will be asked not to come to work”, with exceptions having to be “agreed with an appropriate senior decision maker”.
The new rules, published last night, apply the same requirement to staff with any type of covid contact, which is that the staff member can work if they: have had two doses of vaccine, have had a negative PCR test, and complete daily lateral flow tests before work, for 10 days.
For many organisations and teams, the new guidance will mean more staff are able to continue working, at a time when there is enormous concern that absences will rocket due to omicron.
However, there is evidence the current rules have been interpreted in different ways in different places, so in some cases the new rules may make little difference, or even appear to be a tightening. The new rules also apply to social care services, although it is unclear what rules care services were applying previously.
The loosening of the rules risks increasing the spread of covid by health and care staff, amid signs that the omicron variant will already increase nosocomial infections.
It also comes amid a shortage of testing capacity, which could quickly worsen, meaning staff may face longer waits for tests and results.