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The NHS Staff Council has issued joint guidance on how unions and employers can work together to minimise the risk to staff from the Coronavirus outbreak.
The guidance, which was sent to all 241 NHS trusts in England last week, aims to make sure that staff are able to diagnose and treat patients with suspected Coroniavirus (also known as Covid-19) with minimal risk to their own health. While the handful of cases already in the UK are being treated in specialist units, the guidance warns that this is likely to change as more cases be diagnosed.
“The NHS needs sensible and proportionate contingency plans,” said MiP chief executive Jon Restell. “The guidance from the NHS Staff Council – the joint body for employers and unions - should reassure staff, patients and the general public that the NHS is prepared for any developments arising from Covid-19.
“It is important for people and organisations to take precautions, but it is also important not to panic and to follow the guidance, and for employers to support staff in preventing the spread of the virus,” he added.
The guidance advises NHS trusts to take action now to ensure they are fully prepared for a widespread outbreak. These include:
- Ensuring all staff – including contractors – know how to lower their infection risk, for example, by regular handwashing and using – and disposing of – tissues.
- Ambulance and emergency department staff must know what to do should someone suspected of having the virus require treatment.
- Assess which employees would be most at risk.
- Identify measures to limit the spread of infection.
- Ensure staff are easily able to raise any concerns with senior managers.
- Make sure health workers treating Covid-19 patients are able to take adequate breaks on and between their shifts.
- Any staff treating suspected cases must know exactly what to do if they start to feel unwell
- Details of those working in direct contact with Covid-19 patients must remain confidential.
Jon Lenney, chair of the employers side on the NHS staff council, said: “Our guidance recognises the importance of partnership working between employers, staff and trade unions in implementing plans to ensure that appropriate precautions are taken to maintain the safety of patients, staff and the public we serve.
“All parties are encouraged to keep abreast of the latest guidance and advice issued by the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England, alongside advice from local infection prevention and control specialists,” he added.