Essential NHS frontline workers can return to work following a negative PCR test if they have received both doses of their COVID-19 vaccine, with 14 days having elapsed after the second dose, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) announced yesterday (July 19).
Staff will also be required to take “daily negative lateral flow tests for a minimum of seven days” after being told to self-isolate, the DH added.
The Welsh government announced last week that it would remove the requirement “for fully-vaccinated adults, who are close contacts of someone who has tested positive, to self-isolate next month”, a spokesperson told C+D today (July 20).
Continue to isolate when not at work
The DH’s measure – which was introduced yesterday and also applies to community pharmacy teams – means that those contacted because they are a close contact of someone testing positive with COVID-19 by NHS Test and Trace or asked to self-isolate via the COVID-19 app must continue to isolate when not at work.
However, they will have a “reasonable excuse” to work during their isolation period, “where their absence could result in harm”, the DH added.
The DH said that the decision to allow healthcare workers to return to work in these instances should be made on a “case-by-case” basis, following a risk assessment.
Not a measure to “compel” staff to work
Following the DH’s announcement, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) sent a letter to secondary and primary care teams – including community pharmacies – yesterday.
It said that while these changes should be helpful to alleviate pressures on healthcare teams, “these guidelines give employers the ‘right to allow’, not to ‘compel’, staff to return to work”.
In the letter, NHSE&I shared some guidance to inform the local decision-making processes.
It said that, in primary care, this measure “would apply where the immediate or system-wide impact of absence could lead to adverse patient outcomes judged to outweigh the risk of potential exposure to COVID-19”.
Small primary care organisations should involve senior clinical leadership, NHSE&I commissioner, and the local director of public health in their risk assessment process, NHSE&I added.
Commenting on this measure, Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D today that the “decision to exempt frontline healthcare teams from self-isolating makes sense and should have been made sooner”.
“Pharmacy teams have been on the frontline since the start of the pandemic and during lockdowns, delivering consistent healthcare to patients. Our members have very robust personal protective equipment policies in their pharmacies to ensure team members and patients are protected,” Dr Hannbeck added.