• Concerns raised after Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals FT says staff with unwell household members are fit to work
  • Union says trust placed “its own dangerous spin on national self-isolation guidelines”
  • Trust says it agreed policy with Public Health England, but PHE denies knowledge of this

A major hospital trust has told staff they should attend work even if a household member is showing covid-19 symptoms, contrary to national guidance.

Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust’s occupational health department has told staff who had reported having family members with covid-19 symptoms they were still expected to attend work.

In the email exchanges seen by HSJ, some as recently as a couple of days ago, the trust’s occupational health department was clear there was an NUTH policy agreement with Public Health England.

HSJ has agreed not to publish further details of the emails to protect the source’s anonymity.

However, when put to PHE by HSJ, the national body denied a special arrangement with NUTH. It pointed towards its national guidance, which is clear households must isolate for 14 days if one member has covid-19 symptoms.

In a letter sent on 17 March, NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens and chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard said staff affected by the 14-day household isolation could be offered hotel accommodation to allow them to continue working. However, according to the NHS Employers website, staff should continue to follow government advice on isolation.

Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association national officer Rob Quick told HSJ NUTH has placed “its own dangerous spin on national self-isolation guidelines”. He called for NUTH to urgently review its response to members of staff.

A NUTH spokeswoman told HSJ the trust guidance was very clear that staff who were in this situation should contact occupational health for personalised advice.

She said this was so the trust could discuss options for testing and hotel accommodation.

The trust spokeswoman pointed to NUTH guidance, which said: “If you live with someone who is confirmed positive or symptomatic and you are asymptomatic, inform your line manager and contact OH before you take a decision to self-isolate.

“Your manager will complete a risk assessment. There may be options and adjustments which can be explored with you which will enable you to continue coming to work including working in a different area and there is also the option to provide hotel accommodation for you through this time.

“Alternatively, working from home may be an option (if applicable) based on the outcome of the risk assessment.”

Mr Quick added: “It is just outrageous that Newcastle has told staff they are fit to work when they should be self-isolating due to people they live with displaying symptoms.

“National guidelines in this instance are crystal clear that people should stay at home for 14 days.”