We updated this guidance on 13 December 2021.
Over the last few days, we have had several Government announcements to help combat COVID-19:
- New restrictions have been introduced in response to rising COVID-19 rates.
- The COVID-19 vaccine booster project is being ramped-up to ensure that more people are protected.
- Non urgent NHS resources will be diverted to support the effort against COVID-19 and ensure services are not overwhelmed.
The Care Quality Commission has also paused on-site inspections of acute hospitals, ambulance services and general practice, except in cases where there is evidence of risk to life, or the risk of serious harm.
This guide provides information to help you:
- Keep staff, volunteers and the public safe
- Understand the other issues your service may need to look at while these restrictions are in place.
- Support the wider community effort against COVID-19.
What are the new restrictions and announcements?
- From 10 December 2021, face coverings have been required by law in most indoor settings.
- From 13 December, office workers who can work from home should do so.
- From 13 December, the Care Quality Commission will pause onsite inspection activity in general practice, acute hospitals and ambulance trusts for three weeks to help reduce the burden on services.
- From 15 December, specific venues and events will be required by law to check that all visitors aged 18 years or over are fully vaccinated, have proof of a negative test in the last 48 hours, or have an exemption.
- From 15 December, the NHS COVID-19 vaccine booster programme will be extended to offer vaccines to anyone aged 18 or over by the end of month.
- Guidance on visiting care homes will be changed to reduce the number of recommended visitors.
What steps should we take in response?
Local Healthwatch providers, like all organisations, have a legal duty of care towards their staff, volunteers and the public you engage. It is also important that we again play our part in helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and support the community effort.
Return to home working
Your staff and volunteers who can work from home should do so from Monday 13 December 2021.
There might be some circumstances where this is not possible. For example: working in the office is better because someone has a challenging home environment.
If a staff member needs to continue to go into work, ask them to regularly take lateral flow tests to manage their own risk and the risk to others. Also, make sure your staff continue to follow the Government's Working Safely guidance.
However, we would advise you to ask people to work from home in most cases.
Postpone face-to-face engagement
Although in-person events or speaking to people face-to-face are not restricted, we would advise immediately pausing the face-to-face activity you have planned over the next few weeks, especially if this work can occur remotely.
We would also advise taking any steps you can to minimise the burden on GPs, pharmacists, hospitals and ambulance trusts.
The full impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is not yet fully understood but any action you can take to help reduce community infection and any burden on services is helpful. Once the effect is more fully known, we will better understand how this will affect our ability to speak to people face-to-face.
Support the community effort
We could again see a rapidly changing environment. You can continue to help your local community and local services by focusing on:
- Promoting the latest public advice on COVID-19.
- Gathering feedback to help alert services to issues.
- Supporting the wider effort, such as the recruitment drives for NHS Volunteer Responders.
Other issues you should continue to consider include:
We would not recommend having people in the office or doing events or face-to-face engagement. However, if you do decide to proceed remember to carry out a risk assessment and follow Government advice on reducing transmissions.
To help you plan for the return of face-to-face engagement and office working, please see our previous guidance below of issues you might need to consider.
Communication and morale
Communicate your decisions to staff, volunteers, and stakeholders and why you have taken them. Reintroduce the approach you used to maintain staff and volunteer morale when you were last asked to work and volunteer from home.
Remember to keep on top of changes in Government guidance and follow the working safely guidance.
Don't forget our public equalities duty. Continue to think about how you can support equal access to our services and avoid unintentionally stopping people from accessing our services.