NHS staff may need to isolate in Government's test-and-trace programme

Thousands of care home and NHS staff could be forced to stay home due to the Government’s test-and-trace programme, health bosses warn

  • People who have come into contact with a coronavirus victim will have to isolate
  • Under the programme, they will receive a text or email telling them to stay home
  • Officials are considering if some key workers, like NHS staff, should be exempt
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Care home bosses and NHS officials fear thousands of staff will be forced to stay at home as a result of the Government’s test-and-trace programme.

Under the scheme, those who have come into close contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus will be ordered to self-isolate too.

They will receive a text message or email telling them to stay at home for 14 days – even if they have no symptoms.

Officials are now considering whether some key workers should be exempt after concerns about the impact on healthcare services were raised with NHS England.

Those who have come into close contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus will be ordered to self-isolate under the new scheme. Pictured, Health Secretary Matt Hancock arrives at 10 Downing Street on May 29 after the introduction of lockdown easing measures

At the height of the pandemic, up to a quarter of NHS and care staff were off work at any one time because they were self-isolating.

Officials are keen to avoid this happening again at a time when many healthcare bodies are attempting to resume normal service.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: ‘Many services have struggled with staffing levels through the pandemic… and if significant numbers of NHS or care staff need to isolate, services will be affected.’

Nick Ville of the NHS Confederation, which represents healthcare bodies, said: ‘We do not yet know whether there will be exemptions for NHS staff from the requirement to self-isolate under the test-and-trace programme, but we need clarity on this as soon as possible.

‘At this critical time, it is vital that we do not stop frontline staff from delivering care. These staff are operating in settings where effective infection control measures are already in place – but, clearly, if they do suffer Covid-like symptoms they should self-isolate immediately.’

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England – which represents care homes – told BBC Breakfast: ‘I have real concerns that the tracking-and-tracing programme – unless we get proper guidance for care homes – will produce many staff having to self-isolate and that will again exacerbate the problems in care homes.’

A government diagram explains how the NHS Test and Trace system will work. Officials are considering whether some key workers should be exempt after concerns about the impact on healthcare services were raised with NHS England

The warnings came as newly published research from SAGE – the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – showed ‘only around 50 per cent’ of patients who developed virus symptoms followed orders to self-isolate for a week.

SAGE papers also stressed that a ‘very effective’ test-and-trace system was a prerequisite for lifting lockdown measures.

Its guidance noted that ‘high-quality contact tracing would be needed’ if schools were to re-open and the public return to work without increasing the infection rate.

The test-and-trace programme, which went live on Thursday morning, requires anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 to provide the phone numbers and email addresses of people they have recently been in close contact with. 

Amid teething troubles with the system’s website, Matt Hancock laughed off claims that the scheme had been launched too quickly. 

The Health Secretary told Sky News: ‘I’m normally accused of delaying these things and bringing them in too slowly.’ 

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