RCoA and FICM urge the public to remain vigilant after restrictions are lifted
Self-isolation of NHS staff preventing efforts to address backlog
Following the government announcing the final stage of COVID unlocking in England from 19 July, the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) and the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine (FICM) are advising the British public to wear masks in crowded indoor areas such as public transport and shops, and to continue to follow the hands, face, space, fresh air guidance.
It is important we follow the scientific guidance as we move slowly and cautiously out of lockdown, and this means taking personal responsibility for our health. It is also highly important that if you do develop symptoms of COVID you do not hesitate to get tested, as even vaccinated people can catch the virus.
The pandemic has been tough on all of us, and it is understandable that many want to get back to some form of normality. However, while the vaccine provides a very high level of protection to someone if they do come into contact with the virus, infection rates are rising, as are admissions to hospitals for those not vaccinated. Even a small increase in hospital admissions in some areas will see Intensive Care Units yet again be placed under significant pressure. This will place even more strain on NHS resources and staff who are working incredibly hard to deliver urgent care to the approximately 5.3 million people needing surgery. As a country we cannot afford for waiting lists to get even bigger.
The RCoA and FICM strongly encourage Health Ministers to exempt fully vaccinated NHS staff from having to self-isolate if they are traced as a COVID contact. The risk of patients contracting COVID from vaccinated healthcare staff is minimal compared to the damage that patients could suffer by having their treatment delayed. Without this exemption in place, the NHS will not be able to address the waiting lists. We encourage the government to not wait until August to free vaccinated healthcare workers from the isolation rules – we need this to happen now.
Despite the health system pressures, it is important to emphasise that the NHS is still open. If you fall seriously ill with any condition, delaying treatment is only likely to make you worse, ultimately increasing demands on the NHS. However, for non-emergency cases we encourage patients to utilise other NHS services including 111, their GPs and their pharmacists, so hospitals can be free to treat those most in need.
It is important that in the rush to be free of restrictions, we do not fall at what could be the last hurdle in combatting COVID. By taking responsibility for our own health, we can protect our loved ones, stop infections rising and lower pressures on the health service. By working together, both the NHS and the country can continue to recover.
President, Royal College of Anaesthetists
Dean, Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine