Special paid leave for Covid-19 sickness and self-isolation introduced for NHS staff during the pandemic will be withdrawn in England this week.
The staff terms and conditions section of the Covid-19 workforce guidance – which included special measures for Covid-19 sick pay and paid isolation – will be recinded on 7 July, meaning that contractual sick pay arrangements will apply.
The Department of Health and Social Care introduced temporary non-contractual Covid-19 sick leave guidance at the start of the pandemic, to ensure staff received full pay should they be advised to self-isolate or become ill with Covid. Similarly, contractual absence management processes have been paused for those unwell with the virus.
There will be a transition period for health workers already off sick with Covid-19-related illness and NHS employers will be required to meet those who are currently off work to discuss the changes before 3 August.
A formal notice period will run beween 4-31 August, and from 1 September those still off sick as a result of Covid-related issues prior to 7 July will revert to contractual sick pay.
Normal sickness absence triggers will also apply from 1 September. However, any period paid as Covid-19 sick leave prior to 1 September, regardless of length, must not be counted towards sickness absence triggers from that date.
The Royal College of Nursing said the decision would be a blow for NHS staff struggling with ongoing health issues related to Covid.
RCN England director Patricia Marquis said: “This decision is hugely disappointing given that Covid-19 clearly hasn’t gone away, and nursing staff continue to be disproportionately affected by the virus as they face higher risk of exposure.
“We know many of our members are suffering from long Covid, with their lives adversely affected making them unable to work. Facing the threat of losing full sick pay should they remain off sick from a condition some could argue is an occupational hazard, is neglectful and unfair. It’s another indication of how little the UK government values its nursing staff.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “As we learn to live with Covid, we are withdrawing the temporary NHS staff sickness guidance that was put in place at the height of the pandemic, as part of plans to move back to the normal arrangements set out in the NHS terms and conditions.
“This provides generous support for NHS staff with up to six months full pay and six months half pay, depending on length of service.”
In Wales, regular sickness absence arrangements have been effective for NHS workers from 1 July, while NHS Scotland has announced a similar transition period to NHS England. Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland has not yet announced any changes, but the RCN indicated these could be imminent.
The NHS Staff Council will publish guidance help employers and staff manage this process.