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New COVID-19 self-isolation rules: what nurses need to know

Isolation period for people testing positive in England reduced to five days from 17 January

Health secretary Sajid Javid tells MPs UK Health Security Agency data shows two-thirds of positive cases ‘no longer infectious by the end of day five’

The self-isolation period for people who test positive for COVID-19 in England is to be reduced to five full days, health and social care secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed.

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Mr Javid told MPs that UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data showed ‘around two-thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five’.

Here’s everything nurses need to know.

What are the changes?

From 17 January, people who are isolating with coronavirus

Health secretary Sajid Javid tells MPs UK Health Security Agency data shows two-thirds of positive cases ‘no longer infectious by the end of day five’

Health secretary Sajid Javid tells MPs that UK Health Security Agency data shows two-thirds of positive cases no longer infectious by end of day five
Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid. Picture: Parliament TV

The self-isolation period for people who test positive for COVID-19 in England is to be reduced to five full days, health and social care secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed.

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Mr Javid told MPs that UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data showed ‘around two-thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five’.

Here’s everything nurses need to know.

What are the changes?

From 17 January, people who are isolating with coronavirus will be able to leave isolation after five days, provided they return two negative lateral flow tests.

It is hoped the changes will allow keyworkers, such as healthcare staff, to return to work sooner amid workforce challenges. New figures released today show the number of NHS staff absent due to COVID-19 appears to be falling.

NHS England data suggests that, after reaching a peak of 49,941 on 5 January, the numbers of COVID-related NHS staff absences have dropped every day since then.

What do the changes mean for nurses?

It means nurses who have tested positive for COVID-19 can leave self-isolation at the start of day six if they have returned a negative lateral flow test on day five and six of isolation.

The previous UKHSA guidance was for people to self-isolate until they returned a negative lateral flow test on days six and seven from when they first developed symptoms or got a positive test.

NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor said the move was ‘pragmatic’, adding it would be welcomed by health bosses if ‘more health and care workers who are well enough can return to the front line’.

But the RCN called for health and care workers to be exempt from the changes, adding workforce pressures must not ‘drive a reduction in isolation requirements in an unsafe way’.

Rule change could increase risk of COVID transmission to other staff and patients, says RCN

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: ‘By the government’s own estimate, almost a third of individuals are infectious five days after symptoms starting. Health and care workers will fall into that group in large numbers and there can be minimal room for error or complacency.

‘This change could increase the risk of transmission to other staff and patients. When providing close care, including to those with compromised immune systems, nursing staff must be confident that they are not putting patients at risk.’

The UKHSA has previously said NHS staff can return to work after completing a negative lateral flow test, but are required to continue testing for the full ten days.

Nurses returning to work should continue to follow hygiene guidance and wear appropriate personal protective equipment. In hospitals and other healthcare settings, masks remain mandatory for staff and visitors. Government infection prevention and control guidance for winter suggests mandatory mask wearing is likely to remain until at least March 2022.

It is unclear if isolation rules will also be changed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Do nurses need a PCR test?

On Tuesday, new rules were introduced to allow asymptomatic people who test positive from a lateral flow test to start counting their self-isolation period without the need for a PCR test.

It means nurses who test positive on a lateral flow test, but have no symptoms, will not be required to take a confirmatory PCR test.

The UKHSA said it is a temporary measure while COVID-19 rates remain high across the UK.


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