The DHSC has announced that free testing will remain in place for patient-facing NHS staff from 1 April 2022, when most free testing for COVID-19 (lateral flows and PCR tests) will come to an end.
NHS England has issued a letter to all NHS providers explaining what the changes will mean and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has produced new guidance on managing staff with respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, see link below.
What does the guidance say?
NHS staff will continue to be able to access lateral flow tests via the gov.uk portal. Patient-facing staff should continue to tests twice a week using a lateral flow test.
If a staff member develops symptoms they are no longer required to have a PCR test and should test themselves using a lateral flow test.
Staff who are household contacts of a positive case of COVID-19 are no longer required to have a PCR test in order to return to work if they have no symptoms and continue to test twice weekly.
Staff who test positive
NHS England has said that staff who test positive should continue to follow existing guidance around returning to work, which is detailed below.
If a staff member tests positive on a lateral flow test they should stay at home.
Staff can end return to work after five days (on day six) if they test negative on a lateral flow test on day five and six. The tests should be taken at least 24 hours days apart.
They can also leave isolation between day six and day 10 if they test negative on two consecutive days with tests taken 24 hours apart. This only applies if they don't have a fever.
If staff are still testing positive on a lateral flow test after 10 days they should discuss this with their line manager who should undertake a risk assessment about returning to work.
Staff who were asymptomatic when they tested positive and who develop symptoms during their isolation period and not required to 'restart' the time off work period and can return to work after the initial period.
Rules for close contacts
If staff are identified as a household or close contact of a case of COVID-19 they are no longer required to have a PCR test before coming to work. The NHS England letter says that they can now 'continue to work as normal if they remain asymptomatic and continue to test twice weekly'.
The UKHSA guidance adds: 'Staff who are identified as a household or overnight contact of someone who has had a positive COVID-19 test result should discuss ways to minimise risk of onwards transmission with their line manager.'
This could include redeployment to lower-risk areas or working from home if possible.
Patient testing in the community
High risk patients in the community who could benefit from treatments for COVID will continue to receive free tests from the UKHSA.
If clinicians require a test for COVID-19 to support a clinical decision, from 1 April this should now be done by a lateral flow test rather than PCR test. Patients should be directed to the gov.uk website to order a test - they will be asked to confirm that a clinician has requested this.