Priti Patel's Quarantine Plan Will Mean 'Two-Tier’ Treatment Of NHS Staff, Unions Warn

Doctors can go straight back to work but lower-paid staff could have to isolate for 14 days on unpaid leave.

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Priti Patel’s 14-day quarantine plan will lead to “two-tier” treatment of English NHS and social care staff who travel overseas, health unions have warned.

Unison and the GMB hit out after hospitals advised that “non-clinical” workers such as healthcare assistants, cleaners and support staff would have to self-isolate for two weeks unpaid or take the time from their annual leave.

But the advice for staff, seen by HuffPost UK, also makes clear that doctors, nurses and other “registered” NHS workers can travel abroad and then go straight back to work without the fortnight’s quarantine.

The 14-day restriction, which began on Monday, requires all passengers arriving in the UK from around the world to fill in forms to confirm they will self-isolate before being free to carry on their business or work.

Home secretary Patel tried to distance herself personally from the crackdown, which critics claim lacks any independent scientific backing, telling MPs on Monday it was “not my plan” but the plan of several Whitehall departments.

The move has faced huge opposition from Tory MPs, the airline industry and others who fear it will mean the loss of trade and tourism in coming months, as well as the effective write-off of foreign holidays for millions of Britons of all incomes.

But along with hauliers, defence and diplomatic staff, there are exemptions to the quarantine for “registered health or care professionals travelling to the UK to provide essential healthcare, including where this is not related to coronavirus”, Home Office guidance states.

Emails to staff in hospitals in London state that such registered staff will be able to return to work following “any international travel” as long as they have proof of their professional registration and an employment contract or letter from their NHS trust.

However non-clinical staff or staff not registered such as healthcare assistants and physician associates, will need to carry out the 14-day self-isolation on return from any international travel, before returning to work. The period should be taken as “unpaid leave, annual leave (paid) or home working (with line manager agreement)”. In many cases, home working is impossible.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed that the exemption only applied to staff who were members of registered bodies regulated by the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Act 2002.

Such bodies include the General Medical Council (GMC), Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Health and Care Professional Council (HCPC) and General Dental Council (GDC).


Unions pointed out that while the public had rightly used the Clap For Carers to praise all NHS and social care staff without exception, it appeared that ministers had decided to divide up staff when it came to quarantine.

Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “For quarantine to be effective, it should have been brought in weeks ago.

“Cherry-picking workers is not only unfair but will also create a two-tier system where NHS and care staff are treated differently. And that can’t be right.”

GMB union national officer, Rachel Harrison said: “Any exemptions need to be applied fairly and consistently across the NHS and Care Staff.

“It can’t just be highly paid clinicians who are exempt, but the lower paid who are also key workers and essential to the running our NHS. Their efforts and sacrifices are just as important to keep the service running.

“There also has to be consideration about the potential equality impacts. A lot of staff choosing to go abroad at this time, are going for family abroad reasons and we’d expect compassionate leave on full pay for quarantine periods for these people.”

The DHSC stressed that current Foreign Office travel advice made clear only essential travel rather than holidays were advised. But it said that if staff who are not eligible for an exemption do choose to travel, it should be a local decision on whether they need to use annual or unpaid leave.

“The regulations are clear – anyone who comes to England from overseas will be required to self-isolate for 14 days, unless they are one of the few groups who are exempt,” a spokesperson said.

“These exemptions include registered health and care professionals who are required by their employer to start work within 14 days of arriving in the UK.”

Care workers in England will also not be exempt from the travel ban, because their profession currently lacks a registered body, unlike Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has tougher rules which mean not even NHS staff will be exempt from the quarantine rules.

A spokesperson for NHS England said that the trusts appeared to have faithfully reflected the advice issued by the Home Office.


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