A new exemption from self-isolation for double-vaccinated social care staff in contact with people who test positive for Covid-19 poses “very significant risks”, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) has warned.
Since Monday, fully vaccinated frontline care staff who have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, or advised to by the NHS Covid-19 app, and whose absence would cause significant risks to the health or safety of services users, have been able to continue working.
This is dependent on them having no Covid symptoms and a negative PCR test followed by daily negative lateral flow tests for the required self-isolation period (seven to 10 days), complying with relevant infection control procedures and not working with clinically extremely vulnerable people, as defined by the organisation. It also requires a risk assessment by a person nominated by the organisation’s management and authorisation by its lead professional for health protection or the relevant director of public health.
In the event of a positive test or the person showing Covid symptoms, they will have to self-isolate fully and will not be allowed to continue working.
The measure is designed to deal with the impact of high levels of self-isolation, as a result of surging case numbers, on services. The government said it was a temporary measure before the introduction of a general exemption for fully vaccinated contacts – those for whom 14 days have elapsed since their second jab – is introduced on 16 August
‘Very significant risks’
In response, ADASS said that, while it supported measures to relieve pressures on care staff, it had “concerns that this announcement presents very significant risks”, at a time of high and rising community transmission rates.
“Care staff work with people who are the most vulnerable to Covid: older, disabled and mentally unwell people, among others.,” the association said. “These are the very people, alongside care (and NHS) staff who have suffered most through the pandemic. Our priority must be to absolutely minimise further harm.
It added: “Our concerns are magnified by the fact that there has been an immediate change in policy with no prior warning, guidance and information about the change and how this can be introduced safely. The policy is intended to be applied on a case by case basis, and with a full risk assessment, but the absence of information and guidance raises the risk of blanket applications.”
ADASS called for urgent guidance, along with funding to support the policy.
UNISON, meanwhile, raised concerns about “reckless employers” pressuring staff who are contacts of positive cases to come back to work.
General secretary Christine McAnea said: “If care workers who’ve been in contact with someone with the virus are pushed back to work without proper safeguards in place, the consequences could be dreadful.
“Everything possible must be done to ensure staff in hospitals and care homes don’t bring in the virus or take it home. That includes making sure they are fully paid when sick or isolating.”