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COVID-19: Latest guidance on staff testing and isolation

Guidance for staff on testing and isolation has been updated.

Image of a positive lateral flow test
(PIcture: TWPhotography/Getty Images)

NHS staff who test positive on a lateral flow device (LFD) will no longer need to take a confirmatory PCR test in line with updated advice for the general public, according to updated guidance from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). This a temporary measure that has been introduced due to the high level of cases.

There has also been an update in advice as to what employers should do if a staff member is still testing positive on a lateral flow test at day 10.

From Monday 17 January the minimum isolation period for those with COVID-19 will be cut to five days, with people allowed to leave isolation on day six if they test negative on a lateral flow test on day five and day six. The tests should be taken 24 hours apart. Guidance for NHS staff has also been updated to reflect that change.

What does the guidance say?

If a staff member develops symptoms
They should self isolate and arrange a PCR and continue to remain at home until they have the results of the test.

Staff who test positive on a lateral flow or PCR test
If a staff member tests positive on a lateral flow test they are no longer required to take a confirmatory PCR test.

Staff who receive a negative test result can return to work if they are fit to do so.

If they have tested positive on either a lateral flow or PCR test they must complete a period of self-isolation. This starts from the day they either developed symptoms or received the positive test result if they are asymptomatic.

Staff can end their isolation period after seven days (five days from Monday 17 January) if they test negative on a lateral flow test on day six and seven (day five and six from 17 January). The tests should be taken at least seven days apart.

They can also leave isolation before 10 days if they test negative on two consecutive days  with tests taken 24 hours apart.

This only applies if symptoms (apart from cough or anosmia) have resolved.

Staff must continue to take daily lateral flow tests up to day 10 even if they have left isolation. If any of these tests are positive they should isolate again and take a further test 24 hours later.

If staff are still testing positive on a lateral flow test after 10 days they should continue to take daily lateral flow tests and can return to work after a single negative result. They can stop testing and return to work on day 15 if the result is still positive on day 14.

Managers can undertake a risk assessment of staff who test positive after day 10 and if they do not have a high temperature can decide if they want them to return to work before day 14.

Staff who were asymptomatic when they tested positive and who develop symptoms during their isolation period and not required to 'restart' an isolation period and can return to work after the initial period.

Rules for close contacts
If staff are identified as a close contact of a case of COVID-19 and are unvaccinated then they must self isolate for 10 days unless they are exempt from vaccination in which case they should follow the guidance below.

If staff are fully vaccinated and have no symptoms they should arrange a PCR test. They must have a negative test before returning to work.

They should also take daily lateral flow tests for 10 days following the contact. Test results must be reported on the gov.uk website. If they test positive they should isolate and follow the advice above.

If a staff member has had COVID-19 in the past 90 days they are not required to have a PCR test and should only undertake the daily lateral flow tests.

Tests should be taken on the day the staff member is working and before the start of their shift.

If the staff member works with patients especially vulnerable to COVID-19 a risk assessment should be undertaken and practices should consider redeploying them during the 10 days.

  • Download the UKHSA guidance here
  • Stay at home guidance for close contacts and confirmed cases of COVID-19, which staff must follow if they are positive, is here

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