Trusts concerned about levels of staff isolation impacting ability to deliver care

10 July 2021

  • Ministers are considering exempting fully vaccinated NHS staff in England from having to self-isolate if they are traced as a COVID-19 contact.
  • Latest figures showed the number of isolation alerts from the app increased by more than 60% compared with the previous week.

Speaking to Times Radio on the potential plans to make vaccinated NHS staff exempt from self-isolating if they're traced as a close contact, the chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said:

"A growing number of trusts have told us this week they are concerned about levels of staff isolation as this is now significantly impacting their ability to deliver care.

"Trusts are going full pelt to recover care backlogs, while grappling with record levels of demand for emergency care and increasing levels of COVID-19 hospitalisations, albeit less than in previous waves. This is all with reduced capacity due to infection control requirements – for example between 10 and 15,000 less inpatient beds than before COVID-19. These pressures are being felt right across the system – in ambulance, mental health and community settings as well as hospitals.

"Against this backdrop having large numbers of staff off work, if unnecessary, is a major concern for trust leaders.

"One trust told us that they currently have 500 staff a day absent from work due to COVID-19, with the vast majority of these being due to self-isolation.

"Meanwhile, COVID-19 infection rates are rising rapidly, with the secretary of state predicting 100,000 cases a day. This will mean the number of staff having to self-isolate will continue to rise if current procedures are kept in place. Trusts are also expecting a very stretched holiday and leave period this summer, with high numbers of staff rightly taking annual leave that was delayed due to COVID-19 pressures early this, and late, last year.

"One trust is predicting that its overall absence rates are potentially going to reach 20% in three weeks' time, which means they would have to cancel up to 900 operations.

"At the same time, however, trusts leaders are working incredibly hard to protect patients and staff from catching COVID-19 in healthcare settings. It's vital that trusts do everything they can to protect patients and staff from acquiring COVID-19 from the delta variant which is 60% more transmissible than the previously dominant alpha variant.

"Balancing these two competing objectives is difficult as there are risks either way. Having spoken to trust leaders, we concluded that, given the current severe impact on service delivery, it is right for the government to review their current proposed approach on self-isolation as it affects NHS staff. We are pleased that they are listening carefully to these concerns.

"It's important to remember that nearly all NHS staff have been vaccinated and that they were amongst the first groups to receive vaccinations. There are therefore various options available here. One is to bring forward, for NHS staff, the date already announced for 'no self-isolation for those who have been double jabbed and have a negative PCR test' policy due to start on 16 August. Another option would be to exempt NHS staff from self-isolation completely in return for more frequent staff testing.

"Whatever happens, we need urgent decisions here, given the rapidly growing pressures on trusts."

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