Responding to updated guidance1, which says that from August 16th, healthcare workers who have been asked to self-isolate are now expected to return to work – providing they can prove they do not have the virus – Dr Penelope Toff, BMA public health medicine committee co-chair, said:
“We remain in a very precarious situation with Covid-19. Being fully-vaccinated significantly reduces the chance of being infected, but it does not totally eliminate it so we strongly urge the public to remain cautious and take sensible precautions, such as taking a PCR test if in close contact with a positive case. It’s also important to remember that the updated guidance applies only to people who have the infection but are not showing symptoms. Anyone who develops symptoms should still self-isolate and end isolation only following a negative PCR test. That being said, the BMA would like to see the Government explore widening the official Covid-19 symptoms list to ensure that it is as up to date as possible and cases are not missed.
“For some time now, the BMA has highlighted the occupational risks associated with Covid-19. We would like the guidance about returning to work rather than self-isolating to be strengthened so plans for people who work with those vulnerable to more severe effects of Covid-19 and are encouraged to return to work, are thought through extremely carefully, and every possible step must be taken to keep our staff, patients, and the wider public safe. Staff who want to self-isolate should not be penalised in any way for doing so.
“From a healthcare perspective, it’s also clear that risk assessments - as prescribed by law2 - will continue to be essential, with every aspect of patient interaction and care accounted for in that decision-making process. Both patients and staff need to be reassured that they are being properly protected from infection, which is why, on top of a thorough risk assessment, staff must be given enhanced PPE, including wider provision of FFP3 respirator masks.
“The root cause of this problem is high circulating levels of Covid-19, and the BMA has strongly warned Government that removing all legal restrictions on mask wearing and social distancing in public settings will exacerbate the problem, and result in greater levels of community infection and more staff being notified to self-isolate. Relaxing rules further for the wider population on August 16th, by allowing double vaccinated people to not self-isolate after coming into contact with a positive case, will only increase the spread.
“The priority for Government must be to drive down infection rates - not resort to workarounds that could risk infecting others, or of increasing the likelihood of new variants which may be less responsive to current vaccines. This needs to be through greater efforts to increase vaccine uptake in the population - especially among younger adults and eligible adolescents - as well as revisiting policies to make infection control measures mandatory again in public settings.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.