Hospitals to be allowed to drop some Covid measures to tackle treatment backlog

·2-min read
Staff on a hospital ward (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)
Staff on a hospital ward (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

Hospitals in England will be allowed to ease some of the Covid infection-control measures introduced during the pandemic to help tackle a backlog in treatment.

The changes, recommended by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), are aimed at easing pressure on the NHS and include dropping testing and isolating patients before planned operations and a return to normal cleaning procedures.

A reduction of physical distancing from two metres to one metre in non-emergency departments is among the recommended changes to current Covid Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures.

This would put hospitals in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance, which currently advises one-metre physical distancing in healthcare facilities.

More than five million people are waiting for NHS hospital treatment in England and hundreds of thousands have been waiting more than a year.

UKHSA chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said the new recommendations would help local hospitals plan more elective care.

“This is a first step to help the NHS treat more patients more quickly, while ensuring their safety and balancing their different needs for care,” she said.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “As ever more people benefit from the protection of our phenomenal vaccination campaign, we can now safely begin to relieve some of the most stringent infection controls where they are no longer necessary, to benefit patients and ease the burden on hardworking NHS staff.”

However, the UKHSA stressed that staff working in areas where Covid-19 control measures have been relaxed should be fully vaccinated, asymptomatic and not in contact with a positive case.

Staff will also be required to continue to comply with current guidance on asymptomatic testing.

Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “Healthcare leaders will welcome this review of the restrictions introduced during the early days of the pandemic.

“The recommended changes will help to increase efficiency and capacity within healthcare settings and give healthcare leaders and their teams the flexibility they need at a time when everyone is working so hard to increase the numbers of patients that can be safely diagnosed and treated.

“The new guidance means an opportunity to increase bed capacity on wards, an increase in patients being seen for a variety of procedures as well as the ability to transport patients more quickly and efficiently.

“However, we must remember that Covid-19 has not gone away.

NHS organisations know this well and will not take their eye off the ball when it comes to infection prevention and control, not least as we approach what we anticipate will be a very difficult winter with the NHS affected by rising infections from Covid-19 to flu.

“The impact of this could lead to some organisations and systems having to adapt their IPC measures again depending on local need.”

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