Practices could follow suit as hospitals relax infection control over care backlog

Health secretary Sajid Javid has backed a significant relaxation of infection control measures in hospitals in England to tackle waiting lists and suggested that less stringent rules could also be introduced in primary care shortly.

Some cleaning measures will be relaxed (Photo: Lynsey Addario/Getty Images)
Some cleaning measures will be relaxed (Photo: Lynsey Addario/Getty Images)

The decision follows a review of current infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance in hospitals by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), one of the organisations that has taken over the work of Public Health England.

The DHSC said that UKSHA is currently assessing whether changes to infection control rules in primary care could be introduced.

Under new advice to hospitals the two-metre social distancing requirement will be reduced to one metre in areas 'where patient access can be controlled'. This excludes emergency departments, but applies in 'low-risk areas for elective procedures and planned care'. The review said that this will allow for more beds in some inpatient areas.

Patients who are fully vaccinated will no longer be required to self isolate for three days and take a PCR test before an elective procedure and instead will be asked to take a lateral flow test on the day of the procedure. Individuals who are contacts of a confirmed case of COVID-19 will still need to follow the current rules around self isolation and PCR tests.

Cleaning and PPE

The review also recommended that enhanced cleaning procedures should be stepped down to the standard cleaning that was in place before the pandemic in 'low-risk areas'.

Current PPE recommendations will remain in place and the review said that patients and visitors would still be required to wear face coverings when attending hospital.

The government said that the change in advice was being introduced because more of the population was fully vaccinated and there was better knowledge of how COVID-19 is transmitted. 

Accepting the recommendations Mr Javid said: 'As ever more people benefit from the protection of our phenomenal vaccination campaign, we can now safely begin to relieve some of the most stringent infection control measures where they are no longer necessary to benefit patients and ease the burden on hardworking NHS staff.'

Primary care

He added: 'I thank the UKHSA for their recommendations, and look forward to their assessment of what further steps can be taken in other healthcare settings including in primary care.'

The review said staff working in areas of the hospital where measures had been relaxed 'should be fully vaccinated, asymptomatic and not a contact of a positive case'.

'Rigorous adherence to routine IPC precautions by all staff remains critical for patient safety and must continue to be implemented,' it added.

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