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Health unions develop ‘safe plan’ for NHS to restart services

Health unions have set out a nine-point blueprint for the NHS to safely restart services that were stepped down during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sixteen unions, including the Royal College of nursing and Unison, highlighted that staff and patients must be kept ‘safe’, as they begin again to carry out routine operations and cancer treatments. The NHS should also be ‘properly resourced’, the nine-point plan released last week said.

The unions stressed staff should have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment and unlimited access to testing for staff and patients, to avoid a ‘leap in infection rates which risks overwhelming the NHS’.

The document, Blueprint for Return, continued: ‘Given the pressure that staff have been under and the risk to their health and well-being – and that of their families – that has resulted from dealing with this pandemic, their concerns must be understood and addressed before any decision to bring services back to full capacity is made.’

Other priorities included allowing for social distancing and reducing contact with Covid-19 whenever possible, and supporting access to childcare.

Staff should also be paid for every hour they work – including overtime - and their contribution in the pandemic ‘reflected in future conversations about pay’, it said.

The blueprint also suggested that over the next few months many of the 40,000 staff who’ve returned to the NHS could be redeployed to relieve areas experiencing staffing shortages, allowing overworked staff time off.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said ‘the safety of staff and patients is paramount’ as health services begin to reopen and that ‘acting on the plan could prevent a second wave of infection’.

She continued: ‘The Government can show its appreciation for all NHS employees now by approving moves that guarantee staff are paid properly for every hour they’re at work.

‘Every Thursday we applaud NHS staff from our doorsteps and show how much we value them. The public will expect the government to reflect this when pay talks open later in the year.’

Last week, the RCN called on the Department of Health and Social Care to start collecting UK-wide data on healthcare staff who contract coronavirus.

RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair also warned that nurses must have adequate personal protective equipment and testing before the lockdown is scaled back any further.

In addition, it was revealed that social care staff have twice the coronavirus mortality rate as others of the same age and sex.

Measures set out in the Blueprint for Return

  1. Guarantee that there is enough suitable PPE to give staff the equipment they need to protect them when being in contact with the coronavirus is unavoidable – and that all communal staff areas are safe to use.
  2. Ensure that proper risk assessments are carried out for all staff – to apply social distancing, to help avoid contact with Covid-19 wherever possible and to manage that contact safely when there is no alternative. This must include access to all information on every risk factor, including on ethnicity, and proper training for the managers who will conduct them.
  3. Give staff and patients/clients unlimited access to testing and rapid results, so that resumed services can stay virus free for staff and patients.
  4. Extend the current Covid-19 pay arrangements so that staff get paid properly for all the hours they work – including applying overtime rates to hours over 37.5 a week.
  5. Make sure that staff get a proper work/life balance by recording and controlling excess hours, reviewing long and rotating shifts, enforcing working time regulations and encouraging staff to take rest breaks and annual leave.
  6. Use additional capacity from the Bring Back Staff initiative to support rapid establishment of safe staffing levels.
  7. Make sure that staff know about the support that is available to those most affected by the impact of the virus and encourage them to ask for help if they need it.
  8. Facilitate and support access to childcare, particularly for staff with pre-school children.
  9. Make a clear statement of intent that the contribution of all NHS staff, whatever their jobs, in dealing with this pandemic will be reflected in future conversations about pay.