Employers should continue to implement health, safety and wellbeing measures, undertake and regularly review risk assessments (where required) to support and protect staff. Employers must follow the government guidance on protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19.
On the 15 September 2021, the government announced that those who were previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable are no longer required to shield and will not be advised too again.
Those who were considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable will now follow the guidance contained in Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread.
This decision will now allow individuals to manage their own health conditions with their own healthcare professionals to decide what is right for their individual needs. The government will continue to assess the situation and the risks posed by COVID-19 and, based on clinical advice, will respond accordingly to keep the most vulnerable safe.
That said, employers have a legal responsibility to protect their employees from risks to their health and safety, especially vulnerable individuals who may be at higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they were to catch COVID-19. Employers should therefore be able to explain measures implemented to keep staff safe at work and may want to consider additional precautions, these could include:
- considering whether those they are meeting have been vaccinated – they might want to wait until 14 days after everyone’s second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine before being in close contact with others
- considering continuing to practice social distancing if that feels right for them
- asking their friends and family to take a rapid lateral flow antigen test before visiting them
- asking home visitors to wear face coverings
- avoiding crowded spaces
It is still important that managers check in with their staff regularly and ask if their circumstances may have changed, review any risk assessments undertaken, and provide the appropriate support to staff such as holding wellbeing conversations.
On 19 January 2022, the government announced that the measures put in place in England under Plan B will be lifted. For NHS staff this means that from 19 January 2021 office workers will no longer be required to work from home.
Employers in the NHS should now talk to their employees to discuss and agree arrangements on whether they would like to return to the office. It is important to note that COVID-19 still remains a risk, therefore, employers should support their staff to work from home if they can to prevent the spread of the virus.
Read our enabling and supporting staff to work from home web page for more information on how to support staff.
Full details of the new guidance can be found on the government website: Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread.
From 17 January the government has advised that self-isolation can end after five full days, following two negative LFD tests taken 24 hours apart on day five and day six. Read our latest news article: Self-isolation changes for NHS staff with COVID-19 for more information.
NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI) has issued a letter providing guidance on NHS staff, student and volunteer self-isolation and return to work following COVID-19 contact. This letter details who can and can not attend work when in contact with a positive COVID-19 case and outlines the instances when self-isolation is required based on symptomology and vaccination status.
UKHSA guidance on follow-up PCR tests
NHS England and NHS Improvement has issued a letter providing an update on UK Health Security Agency guidance - confirmatory PCR tests to be temporarily suspended for positive lateral flow test results. This letter states that from 11 January 2021, those who receive positive lateral flow device (LFD) results for COVID-19 will be required to self-isolate immediately and will not be required to take a confirmatory PCR test. This is because the vast majority of people with positive LFD results will have COVID-19 at current high prevalence rates.
There were a range of resources produced to support vulnerable staff which you can still access if necessary:
This is what some organisations did to support clinically extremely vulnerable staff during this time:
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists will provide and regularly review and revise the latest guidance and information. Specific information is provided in the guidance for healthcare workers who are pregnant. We therefore advise all staff who are pregnant to discuss their individual circumstances with their local occupational health department, so that the appropriate support/actions can be taken dependent on which trimester they are in, underlying health conditions and the nature of the roles they are undertaking.
The Equality Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has recently issued Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for employers: Your duties on pregnancy and maternity to help employers reduce the impact on pregnant workers or those on maternity leave.
Read the latest guidance in the COVID-19 chapter of the Green Book to access COVID-19 vaccination information for pregnant NHS staff.
Some staff members may be more at risk from the consequences of COVID-19, due to their race, age or disability. Although national guidance is that individuals in the clinically vulnerable group may not necessarily be required to shield, employers should continue to check in with their staff and undertake an individual risk assessment, following our guidance, to support individuals and implement adjustments or redeployment for any staff in these groups if necessary.
What are NHS trusts doing?
Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust recognised it needed to support staff from all professions. By using ESR, the trust identified staff who needed to shield and could not work in any capacity from home, which increased numbers from under 50 to 140. The trust provided support to these staff by informing their equality lead and HR teams, developing clear guidance, and supporting managers through online sessions to help improve their understanding.
Dawn Matthews from Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust shares her experience of shielding and working from home during the pandemic.