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Pilot scheme begins to help NI health staff return to work 

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Covid: Sir Michael McBride said staff could work if fully vaccinated. Credit: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

Covid: Sir Michael McBride said staff could work if fully vaccinated. Credit: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

Covid: Sir Michael McBride said staff could work if fully vaccinated. Credit: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

A pilot scheme is being carried out to establish how healthcare staff identified as close contacts of Covid-19 cases can go to work.

The Western Trust revealed details of the scheme as it emerged that 1,800 health and social care employees across Northern Ireland are currently off work due to Covid-19.

This is either because they are infected themselves or they are close contacts of confirmed cases.

Last week, the chief medical officer issued a circular to senior staff across the health service in which he said self-isolating staff who are fully vaccinated may be able to go to work in “exceptional circumstances”.

A circular sent by Sir Michael McBride on July 23 advised that “health and social care staff whose activities are critical to the ongoing provision of care and who have been identified as a contact of a case of Covid-19 may be permitted to attend work rather than self-isolate if they are fully vaccinated”.

A worker is considered fully vaccinated more than 14 days after the second dose of an approved vaccine.

The correspondence continued: “This may only occur in exceptional circumstances, following a risk assessment carried out by a suitably competent and authorised manager in the organisation and when additional mitigations can be upheld.

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“The current high prevalence of Covid-19 has resulted in large numbers of close contacts being required to self-isolate which is placing pressure on some health and social care services due to staff shortages.

“As case numbers increase, there may be circumstances where staffing levels could fall so low that the safety of individuals needing care is compromised.”

Employees who have been identified as a close contact must take a PCR test and isolate until they get the result. They can only go to work if they receive a negative result. They should undertake daily lateral flow tests for 10-days following the last contact with the Covid-19 case.

They are not allowed to work with clinically extremely vulnerable patients and should avoid taking breaks with other staff.

During a media briefing held by the Western Trust yesterday (THUR), it emerged that it has been carrying out a pilot scheme involving a limited number of staff to establish safety protocols for the return of self-isolating employees to work.

It is hoped it could be extended out to more staff in coming days, although officials were cautious over the impact it may have on addressing staff shortages.

It emerged yesterday that the Western Trust postponed 39 procedures between July 13 and 27 as a result of the Covid-19 surge. Of these, 11 were red flag procedures. The majority of procedures related to urology and orthopaedics.

Of the 11 red flag patients who had procedures postponed, four have since had their procedure completed, five more have had their dates rescheduled and dates for the remaining two procedures will be finalised as soon as possible.

It comes after the trust experienced a “significant rise in Covid-19 admissions” from June 25, reaching a peak of 40 in Altnagelvin Hospital on July 25 and 17 at South West Acute Hospital on July 27.



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