Care home operators have criticised the government’s decision to remove the legal requirement on people with Covid-19 to self-isolate, with one describing the move as ‘dangerous’.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister told the Commons that the regulations requiring individuals to self-isolate for at least five days if they test positive for coronavirus will expire on 24 March.
Instead, the government will issue advice and guidance around self-isolation.
England will return to Plan A measures next week with health secretary Sajid Javid stating: “we must learn to live with Covid, in the same way we have to live with flu”.
However, care home operators feared that lifting all legal mechanisms to reduce the spread of Covid-19 would place residents and staff in jeopardy.
Pete Calveley, chief executive of Barchester Healthcare – which was one of the first care home operators to voluntarily mandate that all staff must be vaccinated against Covid-19 – told the Guardian: “I don’t care what the government says, we are going to make sure we do a risk assessment on every individual. [Lifting self-isolation] is probably fine for the general public but not for care homes.
“We will test people on day five and six and if they are negative they can return to work. If not, they can’t.”
Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group, said: “I can’t see it changing for us for some time. It is still dangerous. I think there will be face masks and PPE in care homes for several more months. The only concession I can see coming is more visitors than the three [that are currently allowed].”
Vic Rayner, the executive director of the National Care Forum, said: “We need to understand what are the stages to get from where we are now, with isolation and funding to support staff who are isolating, to what appears to be a move to a discretionary position.
“The government needs to be really clear in advance about what this will mean for those working in health and care, and not leave it till the last gasp to outline a workable situation.”
There were 194 deaths from Covid notified by England’s care homes in the week ending 14 January, up from 133 the previous week. This was the highest level seen since the beginning of March 2021.
Trade union Unison urged all employers, not just those in the care sector, to “not let their guard down” and continue to comply with their duties to identify and reduce risks for employees – which may involve voluntary measures to reduce the likelihood of Covid outbreaks.
“Regardless of what Covid laws and guidance are in place, employers still have a duty to identify and reduce the risks to both the health and safety of employees whilst they are at work,” said Unison national officer for health and safety, Kim Sunley.
“Everyone wants Covid to be over, but living – and, more importantly, working – alongside it, will still require a number of preventative measures to be in place, including protecting those who may be more at risk of infection.”
Sunley said the risk of Covid transmission varies depending on levels of infection in the community and the type of work being carried out.
“And, as per the [Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992] legislation, the higher the risk, the more preventative measures that employers need to put in place. This means that employers should be prepared to take further measures if the risk of transmission increases in their workplaces.”