Healthcare workers including nurses should be exempt from the reduction of the Covid isolation period from seven days to five days in England, the RCN has said.
The health and social care secretary Sajid Javid announced yesterday that people who tested positive for Covid can end their self-isolation after five days if they test negative on a lateral flow test on day 5 and 6, and do not have a temperature, from next Monday.
But the RCN raised concerns that the change to Covid isolation could ‘increase the risk of transmission to other staff and patients’, adding that nurses must be ‘confident they are not putting patients at risk’.
Mr Javid told MPs that UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data shows two-thirds of Covid cases were no longer infectious by the end of their fifth day in isolation. He said: ‘We want to use the testing capacity that we’ve built up to help these people leave isolation safely.’
This comes after modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found the risk of being infectious after two negative tests was ‘almost zero’.
But Pat Cullen, RCN chief executive, countered: ‘By the Government’s own estimate, almost a third of individuals are infectious five days after symptoms starting. Health and care workers will fall into that group in large numbers and there can be minimal room for error or complacency.’
She argued the growing workforce pressures across health and care services ‘must not drive a reduction in isolation requirements in an unsafe way’.
However, Matthew Taylor, NHS Confederation chief executive, welcomed the change as a way of ‘alleviating the NHS staffing crisis’ and returning well health and care workers ‘to the frontline’, – providing that ‘it does not significantly add to the risk of the virus spreading’.
The Government said It is essential that two negative rapid lateral flow tests are taken on consecutive days before individuals end their self-isolation. For example, if an individual is positive on day 6, then a negative test is required on days 7 and 8, until the end of day ten.
Those who leave self-isolation on or after day 6 are strongly advised to wear face coverings and limit close contact with other people in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, work from home if they can do so and minimise contact with anyone at higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19.
The self-isolation period had already been reduced from 10 to seven days on 22 December, contingent on consecutive negative LFTs. And, last week, NHS England said practice staff with Covid could return to work after 10 days even with a positive LFT, following a risk assessment.
Countries beyond England have also reduced the isolation period to five days, including Greece and the USA.