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PM’s ‘reckless’ plan to scrap COVID regulations causes confusion

Health unions call for clarity amid fears that Boris Johnson’s ‘abrupt’ plans to end self-isolation regulations will put nurses and vulnerable people at risk

Health unions call for clarity amid fears that Boris Johnson’s ‘abrupt’ plans to end self-isolation regulations will put nurses and vulnerable people at risk

There is a lack of clear government guidance for nurses and other healthcare staff on managing infection risk when COVID-19 restrictions end.

Plans to end COVID-19 restrictions causes concern for vulnerable groups

Prime minister Boris Johnson has signalled that all COVID-19 restrictions in England will end within weeks, meaning people will no longer be required to self-isolate even if they test positive for coronavirus.

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Health unions call for clarity amid fears that Boris Johnson’s ‘abrupt’ plans to end self-isolation regulations will put nurses and vulnerable people at risk

Photo of a crowded street where no-one is wearing a mask or social distancing
Under proposed plans, people will no longer need to isolate if they have COVID-19 Picture: iStock

There is a lack of clear government guidance for nurses and other healthcare staff on managing infection risk when COVID-19 restrictions end.

Plans to end COVID-19 restrictions causes concern for vulnerable groups

Prime minister Boris Johnson has signalled that all COVID-19 restrictions in England will end within weeks, meaning people will no longer be required to self-isolate even if they test positive for coronavirus.

The current self-isolation regulations expire on 24 March, but Mr Johnson told MPs during prime minister’s questions that ‘provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early’.

He said he intends to present his plan for ‘living with COVID’ when parliament returns from a short recess on 21 February, with an aim of lifting the requirement to self-isolate within days of that.

But when Nursing Standard asked how ending COVID-19 restrictions would affect infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance in hospitals and other care settings, no government department was able to provide clear guidance.

Nursing Standard contacted the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), NHS England and Improvement (NHSE/I) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

NHSE referred nurses to current IPC guidance while the UKSHA said questions about IPC guidance should be directed to the UK IPC Cell (established in January 2020 to address the public health threat posed by COVID-19). NHSE and the UKHSA are the only two bodies to represent England in the UK IPC Cell.

Calls for clear guidance on isolation for nurses who test positive for COVID

The suggestion COVID-19 restrictions could be scrapped early has caused concern for some, particularly those in vulnerable groups.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said ditching COVID-19 rules without providing guidance to employers was ‘reckless’.

‘It will be a nightmare for employers struggling to protect staff from what could prove a super spreading free-for-all,’ she said.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton added: ‘Without proper guidance, anyone working in hospitals and care homes will be forgiven for being confused about whether it's safe for them to work.

‘Little over a week ago health and care staff faced the sack if they weren’t double jabbed. But in the space of a few days, they could have the green light to work even if they’re at risk of having COVID.’

Unite union’s national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe added that ending COVID-19 restrictions now would be ‘too abrupt’.

What the current infection prevention and control guidance says

In hospitals and other healthcare settings current government infection prevention and control guidance for winter suggests mandatory mask-wearing is ‘likely to last until at least March-April 2022’.

Changes to self-isolation guidance in January means nurses are able to return to work sooner if they test positive for COVID-19, as isolation was cut to five days provided a negative lateral flow test is returned on day five and six following a positive test.

But the IPC guidance provides no information on whether nurses are expected to continue to self-isolate when COVID-19 restrictions end in England.

The UKHSA, NHSE/I and DHSC were asked for information on the ending of self-isolation for healthcare staff.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We would never recommend anyone goes to work when they have an infectious disease.’


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