Health and social care staff in England ‘who correctly use personal protective equipment’ will not be considered to have come into close contact with someone infected with Covid-19.
The Government today launches its ‘test and trace’ system to tell people if they have come into contact with someone with the virus. They will be asked to self-isolate for two weeks from the day of contact.
But the Department of Health and Social Care has told Nursing in Practice: ‘People working in health and social care professional roles who have correctly used personal protective equipment as part of their employment are not considered to be a close contact.’
It did not respond to requests for clarification around whether this included staff who had no or inadequate PPE, or if they came into contact with someone with Covid-19 outside of work. There have been constant complaints since the start of the pandemic about the lack of or adequate PPE.
Professional lead for infection prevention and control at the Royal College of Nursing Rose Gallagher raised concerns that ‘it is too dangerous to make assumptions’ that nurses are able to correctly use PPE, especially when some nurses ‘are still saying that PPE is in short supply or imperfectly fitting’.
Today the RCN published survey results showing Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) nursing staff reported particular difficulties accessing PPE. BAME groups are also disproportionately affected by Covid-19.
Ms Gallagher continued: ‘Further work is needed to understand how to manage the exposure of healthcare workers in test and trace to ensure actions are proportionate and support them, and to ensure the delivery of health and care services.’
Under the test and trace strategy, announced yesterday, anyone who has come into contact with someone with Covid-19 in England who develops symptoms should immediately order a test.
This is currently only advice, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs on the House of Common liaison committee yesterday afternoon that the Government ‘will consider bringing in financial sanctions’ if people don’t follow advice to stay at home.
The strategy also includes the Covid-19 contact tracing app, which is currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight, and is designed to let people know if they have been in close contact with someone who has Covid-19. It is expected to be launched across England in the ‘coming weeks’.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘As we move to the next stage of our fight against coronavirus, we will be able to replace national lockdowns with individual isolation and, if necessary, local action where there are outbreaks.
‘NHS test and trace will be vital to stopping the spread of the virus. It is how we will be able to protect our friends and family from infection, and protect our NHS.
‘This new system will help us keep this virus under control while carefully and safely lifting the lockdown nationally.’
Official Covid-19 symptoms that should prompt a test now include a new, continuous cough, a high temperature or a change in sense of smell or taste. People should book a test at nhs.uk/coronavirus or, if they don’t have access to the internet, by calling 119.
For more NHS information on what to do if someone has come into contact with someone with Covid-19, visit here.