Changes to self-isolation guidance from 16 August for NHS staff (England)

On Monday 16 August 2021, the government advice on self-isolation following contact with a positive COVID-19 case changed.

New PHE guidance for NHS staff and students in England has been published, which outlines the safeguards that need to be in place for someone to return to work following a COVID-19 contact.

What has changed?
The previous guidance from 19 July to NHS organisations aimed to support people to voluntarily return to work in exceptional circumstances. The new guidance supersedes this previous guidance and means that staff no longer need to self-isolate and are expected to return to work providing safeguards are in place.

Which NHS Staff does this apply to?
This guidance applies to all NHS staff including substantive clinical and non-clinical roles, staff bank, contractors and suppliers – and students working in all facilities, settings and organisations delivering NHS care.

What safeguards need to be in place?

  1. The staff member / student must be fully vaccinated (see letter for full details)
  2. A negative PCR test must be done and results known before returning to work
  3. Daily lateral flow tests must be done for 10 days
  4. The staff member / student is, and continues to be, asymptomatic
  5. Workplace IPC measures must remain in place

If all of these safeguards are not met, the staff member / student should continue to self-isolate. Consideration should still be given to whether they can work from home and, if not, the Covid Special Leave arrangements, which provide full pay as if at work, remain in place.

What about other people in the household who have COVID-19?
In most circumstances NHS staff should not return to work if they are living with a positive COVID-19 case. The NHS guidance allows for exceptional circumstances to apply, requiring “an appropriate senior [Director of public health/IPC] decision maker”. In all circumstances, an individual risk assessment should be done before a return to work takes place based on their work setting.

Does the guidance mention different work settings?
Yes, it specifically mentions services that involve the care of immunocompromised patients. Local senior clinical decision-makers should be involved in decisions about redeployment to lower risk settings.

What do NHS organisations need to do?
The advice is for NHS organisations to undertake 1-1 conversations with staff, monitor local IPC and testing processes and offer continuous learning on Infection Prevention Control measures. However, the new guidance does not cover every eventuality and will therefore require planning and decision making at employer level in partnership with local trade unions.

What do NHS staff need to do?
If contacted by NHS Test & Trace or alerted by the app, NHS staff will be expected to:

  1. Alert their employer
  2. Take a PCR test (only return to work once a negative PCR is received)
  3. Confirm vaccination status to employer
  4. Take daily lateral flow tests for the rest of the period

What should I do if I do not feel safe going back to work?
You need to talk to your manager about the reasons you do not feel safe. Talk to your local trade union rep about how to approach this discussion with your manager.

Does this apply to the whole UK?
This guidance applies to the NHS in England but devolved administration specific advice may be available for each country across the United Kingdom. Please refer to Health Protection ScotlandPublic Health Wales, or Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.

Where can I read more information?
You can read the PHE guidance here.

You can read the NHS letter to the system here.

You can read UNISON guidance on your rights at work here.