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Self-isolation rules change for NHS and social care employees in England

Essential frontline NHS and social care staff who have been told to self-isolate because they have been in close contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 will be allowed to return to work in exceptional circumstances.

Fri 23rd July 2021 The PDA

A letter to all NHS organisations in England on Monday 19 July has outlined new DHSC guidance which allows essential frontline staff to return to work following a negative PCR test if they have been asked to isolate due to potential contact with Covid-19.  As cases are growing, more people are being required to self-isolate after being in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19. The so-called “pingdemic” is causing an increasing number of organisations difficulties in maintaining minimum staffing levels.

The guidance states that, where there is a risk that a staff absence would lead to potential patient harm, those that are fully vaccinated (14 days post-second dose) may be brought back to work ahead of the self-isolation period following the completion of a local risk assessment.

The return to work is conditional upon safeguards being implemented which includes an immediate negative PCR test prior to returning to work, the provision of subsequent negative daily lateral flow tests for a minimum of 7 days, appropriate use of Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures, including social distancing in the workplace when not undertaking clinical work and the use of PPE in line with the current UK IPC Guidance. Employers are required to take all reasonable steps to ensure the vaccine status of the employee and compliance with these safeguards.

Those that return to work following the completion of the risk assessments must still adhere to legal isolation requirements at all other times i.e., when not at, or travelling between home and work.

It is important that all employers continue their responsibility to ensure the health and safety of the workforce. Employers should also bear in mind the potential impact of Covid-19 on an individual due to their risk profile, considering their ethnic background and any existing health conditions they have which may make them clinically vulnerable.

The NHS clearly states that the aim of the new guidance is to reduce the pressure that is being created due to significant numbers of NHS staff with a negative PCR result being required to self-isolate. However, they also point out that “this flexibility should not be seen as a means to bring back all staff that are absent. These guidelines give employers the ‘right to allow’ not to ‘compel’ staff to return to work. Local organisations will need to determine how to record and govern decision making to ensure appropriate application.”

PDA members with any questions or concerns about the implementation of the guidelines should contact the PDA Service Centre by emailing

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