Covid infection control guidance in GP practices is under review and could be relaxed, the health secretary has signalled.
The news comes as the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) yesterday announced changes to infection control guidance in elective care settings.
The changes come in a bid to ‘ease the pressure created by the pandemic on NHS capacity over the next few months’, the Government said.
And, accepting the guidance, Sajid Javid has said he ‘look[s] forward to their [the UKHSA’s] assessment of what further steps can be taken in other healthcare settings including in primary care.’
As of yesterday, a negative PCR and three days self-isolation is no longer required for patients undergoing selected elective care procedures, UKSHA said.
Under the new guidance, fully-vaccinated, asymptomatic patients in low-risk groups only need a negative lateral flow test on the day of their procedure.
Patients who have been in contact with a positive Covid case must still get a PCR test to show they are negative, however.
It is the ‘first step’ in reducing IPC measures in healthcare, and ‘further changes looking at other services and environments… will be planned in future steps’, UKSHA said.
The new recommendations also include:
- Reduction in social distancing from two metres to one metre ‘where patient access can be controlled’, for example not in emergency departments (matching World Health Organisation guidance);
- Reverting to ‘standard rather than enhanced’ cleaning routines (due to the current limited evidence on Covid transmission via surfaces, as stated by WHO).
Staff working areas with newly-relaxed Covid control measures should be fully-vaccinated, asymptomatic and not a contact of a positive case. They must also maintain adherence to the current guidance on asymptomatic testing.
Dr Jenny Harries, UKHSA chief executive, said: ‘We have reviewed the existing Covid-19 IPC evidence-based guidance and made a series of initial pragmatic recommendations on how local providers can start to safely remove some of the interventions that have been in place in elective care specifically for Covid-19.
‘This is a first step to help the NHS treat more patients more quickly, while ensuring their safety and balancing their different needs for care.’
Mr Javid said: ‘[W]e can now safely begin to relieve some of the most stringent infection control measures where they are no longer necessary to benefit patients and ease the burden on hardworking NHS staff.
‘I thank Dr Jenny Harries and the UKHSA for their recommendations, and look forward to their assessment of what further steps can be taken in other healthcare settings including in primary care.’
It comes as GPs around the UK are urging patients to continue wearing face masks when visiting practices to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.