Guidance for hospitals and NHS staff about the risks posed by the coronavirus has today (Thursday) been published by NHS employers and unions.
The advice is being circulated to the 241 NHS trusts across the UK. It seeks to ensure that every part of the NHS is fully prepared should any patients with suspected Covid-19 require a diagnosis or treatment.
The aim is to ensure staff know exactly what to do with individuals who’re concerned they have the virus and how to treat infected patients, with minimal risk to themselves.
The guidance also seeks to reassure both health employees and the public, alerting everyone to be vigilant to prevent the wider spread of the virus.
While the handful of cases in the UK are being treated in specialist units, the guidance says this is likely to change should more cases be diagnosed.
It advises NHS trusts to put in place measures now so they are fully prepared. These include:
- All staff – including those employed by contractors – must know how to lower their infection risk. For example, 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 should there be confirmed cases.
- Identify measures to limit the spread of infection. For example, how to put on and take off protective equipment safely.
- 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 begin to feel unwell and that the details of those working in direct contact with ill patients remain confidential.
Chair of the health unions on the NHS staff council and UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “These sensible contingency plans will help reassure staff, patients and the public that the NHS is fully prepared for any eventuality.
“Encouraging individuals to take everyday precautions is essential. But so is the need not to panic or feel unduly alarmed. Being fully prepared now could make the world of difference later.”
Chair of the employers on the NHS staff council Jon Lenney said: “The NHS staff council 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.”
Associate director of employment relations at the Royal College of Nursing Josephine Brady said: “Occupational exposure to infections is a risk to health care workers so it is essential that there is clear guidance for employers and staff.
“Nurses and other health care workers are crucial to halting the spread of the virus and must be supported by employers to protect themselves and the public as the situation develops.”