Healthcare workers who have been double vaccinated will be expected to provide daily negative lateral flow tests for at least 10 days after being ‘pinged’ instead of self-isolating, NHS England has said.
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) set out this week that fully vaccinated adults and children identified as a close Covid-19 contact will be free to ‘return to work, attend school, and meet friends and family’ from Monday (16 August).
However, NHSE clarified that any staff member returning to work must be at least 14 days’ post double vaccination at the point of exposure’ and must also provide a negative PCR test.
In a letter to primary care organisations including community pharmacies – dated 12 August and sent a few days ahead of the rule change – NHSE said that those who have been pinged and are fully vaccinated will need to take a lateral flow test before the start of each shift for a minimum of 10 days.
Previous guidance issued last month, which applied to frontline staff only, had recommended staff take daily lateral flow tests for just seven days.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee welcomed the policy change. A spokesperson told The Pharmacist: ‘Whilst contractors will still need to ensure that they minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission, removing the need to gain authorisation for each member of staff affected will make the process much simpler. It will also ease the pressure on staffing.’
NHSE clarified in its letter that its new guidance supersedes previous PHE guidance and that it now applies to all staff including substantive clinical and non-clinical roles and those on the staffbank.
Additionally, employers were asked to continue hosting one-to-one conversations with staff to encourage vaccine uptake. They should also impose ‘robust’ processes for monitoring staff testing.
In its letter, NHSE also said: ‘Local workplace risk assessments should take place to identify specific services that involve the care of immunocompromised patients.’
It added that local senior clinical decision-makers should request that returning contact positive staff or students are ‘redeployed to other areas of lower risk where appropriate’ to protect those patients.
Last month’s decision to remove the self-isolation requirement for frontline staff was criticised for the lack of clarity around the authorisation process, which was described as ‘near enough impossible to navigate’.
Commenting on the updated guidance, Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: ‘Our members are reasonably confident going into this. At some point we do all have to try to get back to business as usual for the benefit of our patients and the local communities we serve.’