There is no doubt that 2020 has been extremely challenging for dental practices across the UK, with the coronavirus pandemic currently showing no signs of abating. Heading into the winter months, practices will increasingly find themselves responding to the ever-changing list of rules and restrictions designed to combat the spread of COVID-19.
With government fines now being distributed for those who break coronavirus law, it is essential that practices both know about, and are ready to respond to, the legal requirements now placed upon them.
The requirement for staff to self-isolate
As of 28 September, it is now a legal requirement for individuals to self-isolate for a period of 14 days when they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace, return from certain countries listed by the government as having high rates of infection, or live in a household with someone who is showing symptoms. They also need to isolate for 10 days if they themselves show symptoms or are tested positive for COVID-19. Employers who make their staff ignore these requirements, or knowingly permit them to be ignored, can now face fines of up to £10,000 depending on the severity of the offence.
This will undoubtedly place practices in difficult situations, especially with the recent rise in coronavirus cases and the release of the Test and Trace app making it all the more likely staff will be contacted. It may be difficult to provide cover for certain employees, especially if they are notified of their need to self-isolate at short notice. To this end, it is vital that practices have contingency plans in place for situations like this. For example, if a member of staff can conduct their duties remotely, they should be provided with the means to do so. If they can’t, the practice should evaluate ways cover can be provided.
Employees in this situation can provide evidence to their employer by attaining an isolation note through the NHS website.
Staff returning from furlough
With funding for the Job Retention Scheme reducing, and with it set to end entirely on 31 October, practices in a position to make use of the scheme will increasingly be bringing staff back into the workplace. This will be the case even if the practice intends to make use of the new Job Support Scheme, as employees need to work a portion of their normal hours in order to benefit from the scheme if the business can remain open.
The first thing practices should bear in mind is that some of these individuals may have been away from work for some time and could therefore need further support on their return. The practice should not just assume that these employees will be able to simply slot back into their roles, especially if they have been away for months.
Some staff may be concerned about returning to the workplace, particularly with government guidance across the UK saying staff should work from home if they can, aside from in essential services. In this situation, practices should clearly outline to staff all measures taken to keep them safe and provide copies of any risk assessments undertaken to make the building COVID-secure. Remember that staff should only be asked back into work if doing so is in line with government guidance. For example, the situation in Wales as of Friday 23 October is that employees should strictly work from home if possible but NHS and health services can continue to operate.
On their return, regular meetings should be held with staff, and they should feel able to come forward about any issues they have.
Staff using track and trace apps
Many healthcare professionals have been told to pause use of track and trace apps in the workplace. Keep up to date with the recommendations for your area and ensure all staff know what to do when they are at work.
The continually changing environment
The prime minister remains adamant that he does not want to impose another national lockdown. Nevertheless, local lockdowns continue to be implemented across the UK, and how restrictive they ultimately are can vary. As mentioned above, Wales has gone into a full lockdown in a similar vein to March restrictions, which is currently set to last until Monday 9 November. While a situation has not yet arisen where dental practices have been told to shut in regional lockdowns, this may be something the government explores in the future, depending on how large the rate of infection is within that area.
It remains to be seen how long this second wave of infections will last and the measures the government will need to explore in order to combat it. In view of this it is important that practices remain up to date with governmental guidance and restrictions, whether national or devolved and are compliant with current guidance and standard operating procedures from the relevant bodies and regulatory authorities such as CQC, Public Health England and the Health Boards.
See previous article Tips for dental practices managing staff return to work
Employment law support
Peninsula is a leading employment law and personnel consultancy in the UK. As a benefit of DDU membership, practice principal members can get free access to Peninsula's 24-hour employment advice line and can look to Peninsula for support with COVID-19 employer challenges. Members can also unlock discounted employment law and health and safety consultancy services.
This page was correct at publication on 23/10/2020. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.