The government needs to publish compelling evidence before ending the country’s Covid self-isolation requirement, the Royal College of Nurses (the RCN) has said, describing the move as “a big leap in the dark”.
A survey of NHS leaders has also found that nearly 80 per cent of senior staff do not believe that free Covid tests for the public should be scrapped.
Boris Johnson is expected to unveil his “Living with Covid” strategy on Monday, which will stipulate that people who test positive for the virus no longer need to isolate. Ministers have suggested that free tests will also be axed under the new plan.
However, the RCN, the largest nursing union in the UK, said the scientific basis for the move has yet to be presented and is a necessary precondition for the plans to go ahead.
“Ending the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test is a big leap in the dark,” said RCN chief executive Pat Cullen. “Our members, for whom this pandemic is far from over, need to know there is a sound scientific basis for doing it.
“The government has yet to present any such evidence to support their plan – we are calling on ministers to do so urgently.
“The public messaging around this is very mixed and unclear: with any other highly infectious disease you would be expected – and supported – to stay away from work if you caught it, yet with Covid-19 we’re being told you should learn to live with it. This doesn’t add up.”
The RCN is also calling for the government to produce a specific plan for nursing staff working in health and social care which supports them when they fall ill with Covid. This comes amid fears that providers will be left to fend for themselves once all restrictions are lifted.
“Rather than passing the buck and leaving it up to employers and individuals to decide, ministers must grip the issue and present a clear plan for health and social care staff.”
Meanwhile, a survey of more than 300 senior NHS leaders in England has found that 79 per cent strongly disagree or disagree with the plan to stop free access to Covid-19 tests for the public
Of the 307 staff polled by the NHS Confederation, 94 per cent said testing for health staff and other key workers must also continue. At present, NHS staff are asked to test at home twice a week.
Furthermore, more than four in five (82 per cent) were against ending compulsory mask-wearing in the NHS and care homes.
The NHS Confederation is urging a cautious approach, warning that planned care and access to the NHS could be disrupted if further Covid waves take hold or there are more variants.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Hospital admissions and deaths linked to coronavirus continue to fall nationally and this is allowing the NHS to bring back many routine services that it was asked to deprioritise during the peaks of the pandemic, including some non-urgent elective procedures.”
The number of Covid-infected people admitted to hospital is down 13.1 per cent in a week, government data show. The figure has been falling for more than a fortnight.
“But the government cannot wave a magic wand and pretend the threat has disappeared entirely,” Mr Taylor added.
“So much is uncertain still, including our long-term immunity and the emergence of future strains, which requires a solid testing infrastructure and clear guidance around self-isolation to remain in place.
“A lot is at stake for the NHS’s recovery ambitions if the government is too gung-ho in its plans for exiting the pandemic, which is why health leaders are calling for a cautious and evidence-led approach. This must not be driven by political expediency.”