COVID-19: doctors isolating and those in vulnerable groups

Read our frequently asked questions for doctors who are isolating, have underlying health conditions or live with someone who is in a high risk group.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Monday 11 January 2021

Doctors advised to shield

In January, the UK Government updated its guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from Covid-19.

With the re-introduction of national lockdowns, more people are being advised to shield and will be receiving letters notifying them of the updated advice. Those who fall into the shielding category are strongly advised to work from home.

If you cannot work from home you should not attend work and should receive full pay through the provision of Covid-19 special leave. Read more from NHS Employers.

Others living with you do not also have to work from home and can follow general advice.


When should I self isolate?

  • If you show symptoms of the virus you should stay at home and not meet up with other people for 10 days.
  • If you feel better after that period you can start your usual routine again.

If you share your home with someone who has symptoms

  • You should stay at home and not meet up with other people for 14 days.
  • If you develop symptoms during that time then you must stay home for 10 days from when you became ill.

The above advice is following guidance from Public Health England.


Will I be paid if I self isolate?

NHS staff receive full pay whilst in self-isolation. 

In the event that you are asked to self-isolate, you should do so as quickly as possible.

You should discuss with your clinical manager whether there are any duties which you can perform from home whilst you are self isolating, if you are not ill.

‘Full pay’ is paying what the staff member would have otherwise earned if they were not in isolation, inclusive of any enhancements.


What duty does my employer have to make my place of work ‘COVID-secure’?

Your employer cannot force you to return to the workplace if it is unsafe. It is the duty of the employer to make the workplace safe in light of COVID-19.

It is an employer's duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and they must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.

Employers have duties under health and safety law to assess risks in the workplace.

Employers must give you information about the risks in your workplace and how you are protected. They must also instruct and train you on how to deal with the risks.

Employers must consult employees on health and safety issues.


What support can I expect from my employer if I have to shield?

It is vital that staff who are shielding are supported by their employers to be able to continue contributing to work and that employers engage with staff to identify tasks which are suitable for home working. This way staff can continue to feel productive while remaining safe.

Employers have a duty of care to employees working from home and must ensure appropriate health and safety arrangements are implemented, and equipment provided.

This includes:


What should happen before I return to work?

Before your return to the workplace, your employers should undertake an individual risk assessment and implement any necessary adjustments based on individual circumstances.

This could include that you carry on working remotely.

1. Your individual risk assessment

  • Depending on where you work the approach to risk assessments will vary. Generally, it is your line manager who will carry out a risk assessment with input from the occupational health service. You can find further information in our risk assessment guidance.
  • Your risk assessment should cover the reasons for shielding properly (including if you are living with someone else who is considered clinically extremely vulnerable).
  • If you feel your questions weren’t addressed sufficiently or if there are outstanding issues, ensure there is a follow up discussion.
  • After the assessment, you and your line manager should come to an agreed decision regarding your risks and appropriate mitigating actions.
  • Also read your employer’s workplace policies around COVID-19, health and safety, and workplace attendance.

2. Return-to-work conversation with your employer

  • You should have a meeting with your employer to agree a plan for return and discuss any support you may need to have a smooth return to work.
  • Discuss factors outside of work which may affect your return, including childcare or caring responsibilities.
  • Your employer should update you about any relevant changes to the team or organisations.
  • Don’t feel pressured to take on too much too soon. If you are concerned about returning having not worked in your usual role for a few months and need further support, your employer should offer support including an induction, training, clinical supervision, mentoring and/or buddying. See our guidance on agreeing a plan for return and assessing your readiness to take up full responsibilities.
  • If you are a trainee you can access support through your HEE office, including the SuppoRTT (Supported Return To Training) programme to provide targeted assistance to help you get back up to speed.

3. Your return to the workplace

  • Your employer should keep their working arrangements under constant review, based on the latest government advice.
  • You should let your employer know if you have any concerns, have identified new potential risks, or have suggestions for further adaptations.
  • Your risk assessment should be repeated if there is a change in your medical condition.


I have a difference in view with my employer about the outcome of my risk assessment, what should I do?

If you and your manager assess individual risk differently then an independent assessment of the risks should be carried out through input from a medical professional, for example, an accredited specialist in occupational medicine.

If you need any further advice then please contact the BMA on 0300 123 1233 and [email protected] 


How should my employer support me working remotely, following my risk assessment?

Following your risk assessment, if you and your line manager have agreed that you continue working remotely, read our briefing on supporting staff who are shielding to return to work. This briefing outlines how your employer should support you and what types of tasks you could undertake.

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  • UK wellbeing support directory

Call our free and confidential helpline on 0330 123 1245

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