Axing self-isolation and free testing ‘irresponsible’, say nurses

Unions accuse the government of abandoning most vulnerable by ditching COVID-safety rules

As the government ditches COVID-safety rules, the Department of Health and Social Care unable to confirm how the new guidance will affect NHS staff

Unions accuse the government of abandoning the most vulnerable by ditching COVID-safety rules
PIcture: iStock

Nursing unions have branded the axing of self-isolation laws and free testing in England as irresponsible and foolish, accusing the government of abandoning the most vulnerable.

On Monday prime minister Boris Johnson set out the government’s strategy for ‘living with COVID’, saying the public can rely on a ‘sense of responsibility towards one another’ and ‘practical advice’ to avoid infecting others.

Nurses alarmed by lack of confirmation on whether free tests will continue for NHS staff

But the move comes amid a lack of guidance for how nurses and other healthcare staff will be impacted by the rule change. The Department of Health and Social Care and the UK Health Security Agency were unable to confirm to Nursing Standard if free tests and self-isolation rules would remain in place for NHS staff.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen labelled the move ‘unplanned’ and ‘ill-informed’, adding that nurses will be alarmed there has been no confirmation of whether free tests will continue for health and social care workers.

‘The prime minster had the opportunity to reassure healthcare staff in England they still have access to tests, and they will be alarmed today by this omission,’ she said.

‘Nursing staff remain on the front line of protecting the most vulnerable in society and extra vigilance is needed for all those working in health and care returning to work after a positive result and a period absent.’

Free COVID-testing due to end on 1 April

From Thursday, subject to parliamentary approval, the government is axing the legal obligation to isolate after a positive COVID test.

The official public health advice will remain that people testing positive for the virus should stay at home for five days. However, with free testing due to end on 1 April, asymptomatic people may not be aware they have the virus.

One nurse reacted to the news on the Nursing Standard Facebook page: ‘Not a good idea. I presume there will be exceptions for carers and NHS staff?

‘I can’t imagine the public being happy about their nurse or their carer coming to work and caring for their relatives after testing positive.’

Government ‘taken leave of its senses’, says Unison

Unison’s general secretary Christina McAnea echoed the RCNs concerns, adding most people will stop regularly testing because they can’t afford to.

‘The government has taken leave of its senses. Ditching every last COVID safety rule while thousands are still catching the virus every day is irresponsible,’ she said,

‘There’s ​such a supreme irony in Boris Johnson telling the British people to take personal responsibility for their COVID behaviour.’

The government’s chief medical advisor Chris Witty urged people to continue self-isolate if they test positive as the NHS continues to deal with very high cases of Omicron.

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