STAFF isolation exemptions are absolutely the wrong answer to the government’s failure to control spiralling infection rates, says doctors’ union the BMA.
Responding to news that a number of double-vaccinated staff in key industries won’t have to self-isolate for work if they have been pinged, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:
‘The government’s current public infection control strategy is not working. It is leading to rocketing case numbers with more illness in the community, more people in hospital, and more people having to isolate. It is time for an urgent rethink rather than staying on the same course.
‘BMA members across the country are seeing patient care threatened as surges in Covid illness are resulting in hospitals having to cancel more non-urgent care and GPs are overstretched with demand. Local Public Health units are overwhelmed with calls from schools and businesses. These pressures are now being exacerbated by increasing numbers of health service staff themselves falling ill or self-isolating, and unable to work at a time when they are most needed. Other key services such as supermarkets are telling us that they are struggling to put food on their shelves due to staff absences.
‘The government needs to wake up. This is not a problem about excessive pinging of the NHS app, but is a direct result of lack of effective measures by government that is allowing the virus to let rip throughout the nation.
‘The BMA has repeatedly warned that amidst the highest levels of infections in the world, now is not the right time to abandon legal restrictions such as social distancing and mask wearing – and we are likely to see this situation continue to worsen as a result.
‘The government has a public health duty to reconsider its current policies, and put in place mandatory measures to control the spread of this virus to prevent further devastating effects on our health service and society.
‘Exempting healthcare staff from self-isolation to get them back to work is a desperate and potentially unsafe policy that does not address the root problem. The safety of patients and staff must be paramount. People go to see healthcare professionals in order to get better, not to risk getting infected, and staff should not fear transmission of the virus from their own colleagues.
‘If the government decides to stick with its current strategy, any return to work must be in exceptional circumstances, pending the results of the current pilots on the safety of this approach – and must be entirely voluntary; staff who want to self-isolate must not be penalised in any way for doing so.
‘This will also require proper and thorough individual and local risk assessments and provision of enhanced PPE, including wider provision of FFP3 masks.
‘Widening this scheme out to other workplaces for employees in other sectors who should be isolating should only happen in the absolute rarest of cases and with rigorous infection control measures and assurances of safety.
‘There must also be clear guidance on what constitutes “exceptional circumstances” for employers to follow.
‘Ultimately, the reality that the NHS and key services are suffering staff shortages due to self-isolation is a clear sign that the government must now put into action more stringent infection control measures to decisively bring down the spiralling spread of this virus, rather than its current approach of letting it run loose amongst citizens.’