The Department of Health and Social Care has announced changes to the way COVID-19-related sickness absence and self-isolation will be managed for NHS staff in England, a move sharply criticised by the RCN and other healthcare organisations.
From 7 July, the staff terms and conditions section of the COVID-19 workforce guidance will be withdrawn, meaning the immediate withdrawal from this date of COVID-19 sick pay for new episodes of COVID-19 sickness, and access to COVID-19 special leave for the purposes of self-isolation.
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There will be a transition period for staff already off sick with COVID-19-related illness, with NHS employers required to meet affected staff on a one-to-one basis to explain and discuss the changes before 3 August.
‘This decision is hugely disappointing given that COVID-19 clearly hasn’t gone away, and nursing staff continue to be disproportionately affected by the virus as they face higher risk of exposure,’ said RCN England Director Patricia Marquis.
‘We know many of our members are suffering from long COVID, with their lives adversely affected making them unable to work. Facing the threat of losing full sick pay should they remain off sick from a condition some could argue is an occupational hazard, is neglectful and unfair.’
From 4 August, the formal notice period for staff reverting to normal contractual sick pay arrangements will begin unless they have already returned to work. This will run until 31 August. From 1 September, staff who were on COVID-19 sick pay as a result of being unwell prior to 7 July, and continue to be unwell, will revert to their normal contractual sick pay arrangements.
However, any period paid as COVID-19 sick leave prior to 1 September, regardless of length, must not be counted towards calculations of contractual sick pay or sickness absence triggers from that date.
‘It’s another indication of how little the UK government values its nursing staff. NHS pay is barely enough to make ends meet at the best of times, and this will be another blow for some struggling with COVID-19-related health issues,’ added Ms Marquis.