Patients, staff and visitors should continue to wear face masks in GP practices, NHS England has said.
There will be ‘no immediate changes’ to infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance, NHS England confirmed, as the country moves into the ‘Living with Covid’ strategy from tomorrow.
In a letter sent to GP practices and PCNs today, NHS England also said that Covid-positive staff should not attend work, but that updated guidance will be published tomorrow.
And it reiterated that NHS England will write to staff ‘in the coming weeks’ with detail on testing protocols for staff and patients.
The Government announced its ‘Living with Covid’ plan on Monday, including that mandatory self-isolation for those who test positive will also no longer be legally enforceable from tomorrow (24 February).
Free Covid testing for most of the population in England will also end from 1 April, except for the most elderly and vulnerable.
GPs had expressed concerns about the safety of vulnerable patients visiting their practices, as the measures are scrapped in England.
NHS England’s letter said: ‘There are no immediate changes to IPC requirements. This includes the requirement for staff, patients and visitors to wear a mask/face-covering in healthcare settings.
‘The consistent application of IPC measures, alongside the rollout of the vaccine programme and staff and patient testing, remains the most effective defence against the entry and spread of Covid-19 in healthcare settings.’
It added that healthcare staff who have tested positive for Covid ‘should not attend work until they have had two negative LFD test results taken 24 hours apart’ – with the first taken no earlier than day five after their initial positive test – and are ‘medically fit’.
This is in line with previous guidance, however, NHS England added that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) will publish updated guidance tomorrow.
GP practices ‘must ensure staff are not required to work if they test positive for Covid-19’ and that any staff member who must be ‘physically present’ to carry out their duties receives full pay for any period they cannot attend work due to public health advice, NHS England said.
Meanwhile, the letter added that NHS England will write to practices ‘in the coming weeks with the specific detail of the various testing protocols for patients and staff’.
It said: ‘Current testing protocols should continue until further guidance is received. For now, NHS staff should continue to access their tests via the universal offer online until advised otherwise and community pharmacies will continue to provide a supply of tests until 31 March.
‘In extremis, regional testing leads will have a supply of tests to be accessed on an emergency basis provided to them by UKHSA.’
However, it added that NHS England ‘will communicate further about testing provision for NHS staff and patients as this is agreed with UKHSA and DHSC’.
Reporting twice-weekly asymptomatic Covid tests ‘remains a requirement’ whether a positive or negative result, it said.
It comes as NHS England told Pulse yesterday that continued Covid testing for GPs and practice staff is being reviewed and will be updated before 1 April, after the Prime Minister said this will be up to the NHS to decide.
But GPs have warned that it will be ‘a disaster’ if NHS staff cannot get access to free testing, with the BMA calling for ‘urgent clarity’ on the matter.
GPs also said cash-strapped patients, without free testing, may attend with no way of knowing they have Covid – thus putting extremely vulnerable patients at risk – and called for mask-wearing to continue to be advised in healthcare settings.
GPs had been left in the dark over whether new self-isolation rules coming into force tomorrow apply to them.