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It could easily have escaped attention, buried in the penultimate bullet point, but yesterday a letter sent by the most senior clinicians in the NHS has strengthened expectations on NHS staff who have just returned from abroad.

It said that NHS workers returning from any non red-list country must have a negative PCR test before returning to work.

The letter, sent by chief medical officer Chris Whitty, national nursing director at NHS England Ruth May and chief medical adviser for the UK Health and Security Agency Susan Hopkins, said all NHS workers should also be taking lateral flow tests for 10 days after returning to the UK.

This news of course follows the identification of a new covid variant by scientists in South Africa last week – Omicron is thought to be more transmissible than the Delta variant and current vaccines may be less effective against it.

Although asking NHS staff to have a negative PCR test before returning to work is unlikely to have a major operational impact, it does highlight how very concerned medical leaders are about its impact.

Segregation proves divisive

New infection control guidance has recommended that trusts relax the segregation of patients according to covid-19 risk.

But the government should not assume this will dramatically change the NHS’ capacity to deliver more operations, NHS Providers has said.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, has warned that some people in central government do not have a “fully rounded view” of how challenging this will be for trust leaders – who have to balance the risk of infections with the need to carry out more operations.

The guidance by UK health bodies tells trust leaders that patients no longer have to be segregated into pathways based on “high,” “medium,” or “low” risk of covid. However, it said these pathways “can still be applied by organisations locally”.  

There is likely to be a developing picture on infection control guidance over the next few weeks in light of the Omicron variant.