Questions and answers for HSC staff
Staff from across Health and Social Care have pulled together to help tackle the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak and continue to work tirelessly to ensure that our patients, clients, staff and public are as safe as possible. It is only through the ongoing teamwork of our HSC staff across our services that we will be able to tackle the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).
The following questions and answers are set out below to advise and guide staff regarding important employment related issues. The situation relating to COVID-19 (coronavirus) is continually evolving and therefore these questions and answers will be subject to ongoing review and amendment as appropriate.
Please note issues related to leave, pay and conditions are the responsibility of individual trusts/organisations and are hosted here for information only. Please contact your line manager if you have any queries.
1. What is COVID-19 (coronavirus)? (Updated April 2022)
A coronavirus is a type of virus. COVID-19 is the disease caused by a strain of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. It was first discovered in December 2019, and in March 2020 the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic, which is currently ongoing.
COVID-19 can affect your lungs and airways. Everyone should do what they can to stop coronavirus spreading.
Commonly reported symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature), or;
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual), or;
- anosmia - the loss or a change in your normal sense of smell (it can also affect your sense of taste)
If you have any of these symptoms you should not attend work and follow the guidance provided by your Trust.
Possible symptoms of COVID-19 can be viewed on the Public Health Agency (PHA) website. Staff are encouraged to undertake regular LFD testing.
2. How will the risk of COVID-19 be handled in the workplace? (Updated April 2022)
Although restrictions are easing within the wider society, as Health and Social Care staff, we must continue to be vigilant within the work place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to patients, colleagues and members of the public. Employers and managers should conduct thorough risk assessments, in discussion with their staff to ensure the following measures are maintained within the workplace:
- Social distancing where possible. This may include spreading staff across any available offices, partitions, online meetings, alternative shift patterns, eg early morning or evening working, or weekend working.
- Face coverings in shared spaces & when moving indoors
- Adequate ventilation
- Hand washing and/or sanitising facilities
- Reduced use of communal items & areas
- Regular cleaning of all areas & increased cleaning of frequently touched surfaces
- Appropriate use of medical grade PPE when working with patients, residents or service users
- COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic HSC staff using Lateral Flow Devices are available in Northern Ireland. Participating in regular asymptomatic testing helps to reduce the risk of you spreading COVID-19 to colleagues and patients, and is strongly encouraged.
- All staff are encouraged to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This includes the booster vaccination to ensure immunity levels are maintained. For more information see https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-staying-safe-work
SYMPTOMS, SELF-ISOLATION AND CONTACT TRACING
3. I have one or more symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus). What should I do? (Updated May 2022)
If you any of the following symptoms:
- a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature), or;
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual), or;
- anosmia - the loss or a change in your normal sense of smell (it can also affect your sense of taste)
If you have any of these symptoms you should take a Lateral Flow Device (LFD) test, not attend work and follow the guidance provided by your Trust.
If the LFD Test result is negative:
If your LFD test result is negative you can attend work if you are clinically well enough to do so and do not have a high temperature.
If you work in a patient facing role or if your work regularly brings you into clinical areas, you should speak to your line manager who should undertake a risk assessment with you before you return to work. If you work with patients whose immune system means that they are at higher risk of serious illness despite vaccination, this should be considered in the risk assessment.
On returning to work you should continue to comply rigorously with all relevant infection control precautions.
If the LFD Test result is positive:
If you test positive you should self-isolate at home and not come to work. You will be able to leave self-isolation and return to work, if you test negative on days 5 and 6 after the date that symptoms started or the date of their initial test, whichever is the sooner, provided you do not have a temperature and are medically fit.
If you work in a patient or client facing role or work regularly in a clinical area, you should continue to undertake daily LFD Tests until day 10. If any of the LFD tests are positive you should isolate and wait 24 hours before taking the next LFD test and only return to work after testing negative on two separate occasions up to Day 10.
If you test positive at day 10, you should take a daily LFD test on days 11 – 14 until you get a single negative result. After day 10 you can return to work immediately following a single negative result.
If your LFD test result is still positive on the 14th day, you can stop testing and return to work on day 15.
You must continue to comply with all relevant infection prevention precautions. (Management of Health & Social Care Staff who are confirmed cases of COVID-19 Updated guidance HSS(MD)17/2022.
More possible symptoms of COVID-19 can be viewed on the PHA website.
- For certain settings, there may be additional return to work requirements for you if you have tested positive for COVID-19, for example if you work with immunocompromised patients. In such circumstances consideration should be given to redeployment until 10 days after your symptoms started (or the day your first positive test was taken if you did not have symptoms whichever was earliest).
- In such settings, where you can be facilitated to work from home you should do so. If this is not possible the absence should be recorded on HRPTS as special leave category ‘Risk Assessment (Paid)’.
- It is recognised that many staff, whose attendance at the workplace is critical to the delivery of services, work in areas where the risk of nosocomial infections is extremely low. In these situations, and during the current phase of the pandemic, the organisation may risk assess and choose to apply the general population isolation guidance for cases with the added safeguard that the individual is asymptomatic and complies carefully with the required IPC practices for their area of work.
- Occupational Health advice is available as necessary.
- If you are asked to remain away from work due to health reasons, you should suffer no financial detriment.
- Line managers should continue to submit timesheets for any enhancements and additional hours that a staff member would have worked had they been in work.
Leave will be recorded as special leave on HRPTS using special leave category ‘Public Serv Duties Paid’. These arrangements are currently under review.
Occupational Health advice is available as necessary via your line manager.
4. Can I be re-infected with COVID-19 (April 2022)
Yes, it is possible to be re-infected with COVID-19.
If you develop further symptoms of COVID-19 you should take a LFD test and if you receive a positive result you should self-isolate.
5. What happens if I am notified that I am a contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case? (Updated May 2022)
Contact tracing of community close contacts ceased on 22 April 2022. Since 22 April, contact tracing has focused on providing appropriate public advice and guidance to positive cases and their household members. People who live in the same household as someone with COVID-19 or who have stayed overnight in the same house as the case are at the highest risk of becoming infected. You are therefore only required to take additional steps before returning to work where you are a household or overnight contact of a case of Covid-19 and have direct patient contact or work regularly in a clinical area.
If you are a household or overnight contact you should take an LFD test as soon as possible after being identified as a contact. If this is negative and you do not have any symptoms you should speak to your line manager who should undertake a risk assessment before you return to work.
If you are returning to a clinical area you should re-commence twice weekly regular testing 48 hours after the negative LFD referenced above. This means you should take a total of three LFD in the 7 day period following identification as a household or overnight contact. If you develop symptoms you should isolate and take an LFD test.
This guidance applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated staff.
6. What is the role of lateral flow device (LFD) test? (Updated May 2022)
Many people can be infected with COVID-19 and able to spread it to others, even though they don’t have symptoms.
LFDs can give a rapid result just 30 minutes after the test is self-administered, and it is therefore important that asymptomatic staff who have direct patient contact or work regularly in a clinical area continue to carry out the tests twice weekly. This includes staff whose work regularly brings them onto wards and clinical environments; students and trainees on clinical placement; volunteers working on wards and laboratory staff.
Participating in regular asymptomatic testing helps to reduce the risk of you spreading COVID-19 to colleagues and patients.
LFDs will continue to be available through existing channels to support this testing.
If your role does not bring you into direct contact with patients:
In a change to the testing protocol, as of the Chief Medical Officers letter of 4 May 2022, if your role does not bring you into direct contact with patients - other than those outlined above – you are no longer advised to test as part of the regular asymptomatic testing programme.
EMPLOYEE CONCERNS AND PROTECTING EMPLOYEES IN ‘VULNERABLE’ GROUPS (Updated May 2022)
7. As a manager how do I protect employees in vulnerable groups? (Updated April 2022)
Health & Social Care NI encourages all staff to regularly test for and be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to help reduce the spread of the virus. There are a number of Risk Assessments that managers and Trusts should and must conduct:
- Risk Assessments of work settings which ensures adequate PPE and Infection, Prevention & Control measures.
- Individual COVID-19 Risk Assessments for individual staff at a higher risk of COVID-19, including bank and agency staff.
- New & Expectant Mother risk assessments as normal
- Risk Assessments for staff who test positive or are close contacts of a positive case to see whether they can safely return to work
- Risk assessments for face to face meetings and training, events and returning services
This is not an exhaustive list and staff and managers are advised to follow the up-to-date COVID-19 advice from Public Health, Infection Prevention & Control, Health & Safety and Occupational Health to protect employees during the pandemic.
8. I am a pregnant staff member, what is the current advice for me in the workplace? (Updated April 2022)
Pregnant women are considered ‘clinically vulnerable’ or in some cases ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ to COVID-19 infection. As such, pregnant women are at increased risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19 including complications such as pre-term birth. The COVID-19 vaccination is strongly recommended in pregnancy as it is the best way to protect expectant mothers and their babies. More information can be found on the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologist’s FAQs page.
It should be noted that HSENI are currently updating their ‘pregnancy in the workplace’ guidance and that this should be referred to when available.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 already requires employers to risk assess and identify health and safety risks for new and expectant mothers. Preventive and protective measures must be implemented by the employer, including consideration of prevention of risks from Coronavirus.
Employers will need to take account of the latest medical advice (Midwifery/ Maternity Medical Team) as part of their risk assessment to determine what measures need to be put in place.
Reasonable measures should be considered to minimise the risk of exposure to the virus, including providing suitable alternative work on the same terms and condition. Occupational Health advice should be sought if necessary.
General advice including an overview of occupational health advice can be found at: Coronavirus (COVID-19), infection and pregnancy FAQs | RCOG.
Maternity Action are also an excellent organisation who can provide free, personalised advice for all pregnant women.
- As noted above, full guidance should be sought from HSENI - the information included below has been taken from this page.
If the employer cannot put the necessary control measures in place (as discussed above) such as adjustments to the job or working from home, they should alter an employee’s working conditions or hours of work if it is reasonable to do so to avoid risks of contracting Coronavirus.
If these conditions cannot be met an employer should identify and offer the employee suitable alternative work that is available, and if that is not feasible - authorise the staff member to remain out of the workplace on full pay’.
Please note: if a pregnant staff member is sick and not available for work, they will be recorded as being on sick leave for the duration of their sickness absence. If they remain sick at week 36 their maternity leave will commence in line with Regulation 6 (1)(b) outlined above.
If following a risk assessment, the pregnant women requests to continue working in a patient facing role, the line manager should discuss the risks and if necessary seek further advice from Occupational Health.
- General advice including an overview of occupational health advice can be found at: Coronavirus (COVID-19), infection and pregnancy FAQs | RCOG.COVID-19 infection and pregnancy: https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy
- COVID-19 vaccines, pregnancy and breastfeeding: https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/coronavirus-covid-19-pregnancy-and-womens-health/covid-19-vaccines-and-pregnancy/covid-19-vaccines-pregnancy-and-breastfeeding/
- Maternity Action (UK’s maternity rights charity dedicated to promoting, protecting and enhancing the rights of all pregnant women, new mothers and their families to employment, social security and health care): https://maternityaction.org.uk/
9. I have an underlying health condition, am I still required to be in work? (Updated April 2022)
If you are at higher risk from COVID-19 or have been previously identified as ‘clinically extremely Vulnerable’ or Vulnerable, it is important you speak with your manager at the earliest opportunity as they will need to carry out a risk assessment to ensure your safety in the workplace. The COVID-19 risk assessment has recently been updated to reflect the latest guidance and is designed to assist in evaluating risks and the identification of control measures to reduce risk within the workplace. If staff with underlying conditions can work from home they should do so.
You should also continue to follow the recommended public health guidance: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-people-higher-risk-covid-19
10. I fall into the category of clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV), what is the current advice? (Updated April 2022)
See Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for people at higher risk from COVID-19 | nidirect, for full details.
Everyone should take steps to reduce the risk of catching or spreading coronavirus (COVID-19). If you’re at higher risk from COVID-19 or previously identified as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ or ‘vulnerable’, remember that the virus is still in our communities and you may wish to take extra precautions.
If you have previously been identified as CEV or are at higher risk from COVID-19, you should work from home where possible but can return to the workplace provided this is supported by an individualised COVID-19 risk assessment carried out between you and your line manager.
All employers have a 'duty of care' for staff and, in practice, this means taking all steps they reasonably can to support the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff.
Information and advice for employers and employees on COVID-19 and working safely across a range of workplace settings is available at: the https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/
If concerns remain about a staff member’s work arrangement on completion of the risk assessment, Occupational Health advice can be sought. Managers should ensure that the employee is returning to a COVID-19 secure environment. Clinically extremely vulnerable staff members should not return to high risk COVID-19 patient facing areas, and should work from home where possible. All line managers of staff who are CEV must discuss the new guidance and where the member of staff is returning to the workplace, they must undertake a new risk assessment with the staff member prior to their return to the workplace. This should ensure that the staff member is supported appropriately, with mitigation to protect them in the workplace. Further advice and guidance can be provided by either Occupational Health or Human Resources.
Note that this guidance applies to clinically extremely vulnerable staff only. Staff living in a household with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable are not required to follow it, but should continue to follow public health guidance to limit the transmission of COVID .
11. I am over 70 years old, should I still be coming into work? (Updated April 2022)
Staff over 70 years of age are considered to be ‘vulnerable’ but not ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ (unless defined as CEV by a separate health condition). Such individuals can attend the workplace providing a risk assessment has been carried out by the line manager and steps have been taken to mitigate risks of COVID in the workplace.
See the following for more information:
12. What steps are being taken to protect Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff? (Updated April 2022)
The evidence to date shows that those from a black, Asian & minority backgrounds are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 with higher age & male sex also associated with more severe illness. See below resources for further details. Such individuals can attend the workplace providing a risk assessment has been carried out by the line manager and steps have been taken to mitigate risks of COVID in the workplace
Employers should ensure a workplace culture where staff feel supported and empowered.
- COVID-19: the risk to BAME doctors (bma.org.uk)
- RCM’s Race Matters programme enters next phase; Race matters (rcm.org.uk)
- RCN position on BAME staff - employer responsibilities | Royal College of Nursing
- Blacknurses | Equality 4 Black Nurses
- Binauk.org – British Indian Nurses Association
- The National BAME Health and Care Awards | Promoting BAME excellence in healthcare (bamehscawards.org)
13. How do I ensure I am protected if a patient or client is suspected of or confirmed as having contracted COVID-19 (coronavirus)? (Updated April 2022)
A number of measures are in place to protect staff and minimise the risk of staff contracting COVID-19 when caring for patients. Patients are asked to confirm they are symptom free when attending for routine appointments. Rapid and routine testing is in place to provide additional safeguards in a designated services areas. You will be fully briefed and trained on the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and managers have a responsibility to ensure appropriate PPE is in place for you. Wearing of PPE is mandatory, however we appreciate it can be tiring for staff and therefore you and your manager should ensure that you receive adequate rest breaks to avoid fatigue. You must practise (and encourage others to practice) hand hygiene measures, and ensure you follow PHA guidance relating to ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it’.
If your patient, client or colleague receives a positive COVID-19 test result and you have not been wearing PPE or PPE has been breached, and following a risk assessment you are deemed to be a close contact, you will be contacted by your employer’s contact tracing team.
14. Am I required to share or provide transport to clients/patients/student during the COVID pandemic? (Updated April 2022)
Current restrictions on car sharing do not apply when car sharing is necessary as part of your work as this is identified as being exempt under the Government guidelines. Therefore you may still be required to provide transport to clients/patients/students if this normally falls within your job role. However consideration should be given to what other options are available to avoid car sharing being required and you should ensure that car sharing takes place only when absolutely necessary.
Where you feel it is necessary to transport another individual in your vehicle as part of your role the PHA Standard operating procedure (SOP) for Health and Social Care staff car sharing for essential practice should be followed and you should speak to your line manager in advance of undertaking any such journey. A risk assessment should be completed for each Department where car sharing is required for part of an employee’s job role. A sample risk assessment is provided here. This should be used as a starting point and added to in order to address specific individual circumstances, referring to local arrangements for further guidance.
Staff should consider the following in advance of any journey taking place.
- Cleaning all contact surfaces between journeys, including seatbelts, internal and external handles and other touch points.
- A disposable fluid resistant mask should be worn by the driver and all passengers while in the car together.
- Minimising the number of people in the car at any time.
- Considering seating arrangements to maximise distance between people in the vehicle.
- Facing away from each other.
- Washing your hands or using sanitiser before and after your journey. Hand sanitiser, antibacterial wipes, gloves and face masks / coverings will be provided to any staff required to share a car with someone as part of their work and these items should be carried in the car at all times.
- Keeping windows open for ventilation.
- If possible only travelling with the same individual or small group of people on regular journeys.
PHA have produced a flyer that advises people to avoid car sharing during COVID-19 but shows the steps to follow to reduce the spread of the virus for those who can't avoid car sharing: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/publications/advice-car-sharing-english-and-translations
ABSENCE – PROCESS AND PAY
15. Do I have to submit any documentation if I am absent from work due to having COVID-19 or due to someone in my household having COVID-19? (Updated April 2022)
If you are absent from work because you are sick or symptomatic due to COVID-19 you can submit a self-certificate to cover your absence. Most staff should be able to return to work within 10 days. We recognise however that some staff will feel unwell for a longer period of time and therefore if you remain absent after 10 days staff should then submit a GP fit note to cover the continued absence.
You can access self-certification forms here.
If you are absent from work because you are self-isolating as someone in the household has COVID–19, you do not need to submit a self-certificate to cover your absence.
For clarity, you will see on the PHE/PHA websites reference to visiting NHS111 online and the availability of an ‘isolation note’ for COVID-19 related absence. HSC staff do not need to utilise this facility.
16. Is there any change in the process for submitting fit notes (sick lines) for any other kind of sickness absence from work? (Updated April 2022)
No. All other sickness absence should follow the usual process, i.e. self-certificate for up to and including 7 days and a GP fit note for subsequent periods as per the local attendance management procedure.
17. What pay will I receive if I am absent from work due to COVID-19? (Updated April 2022)
Currently staff will receive the pay they would normally have received had they been in work. In consultation with Trade Unions, these arrangement are currently under review.
18. I am a bank worker – what will I be paid if I am absent due to COVID-19? (Updated April 2022)
Bank workers should receive full pay whilst self-isolating/ off on COVID-19 related sick leave for all pre-booked bank shifts that they would have worked had they not had to self-isolate.
19. I am an agency worker – what will I be paid if absent due to COVID-19? (Updated November 2021)
Agency workers should discuss the arrangements for pay during periods of COVID-related absence with their agency. Managers should not sign off timesheets for periods when an agency worker is absent due to COVID-19.
20. Will sick leave associated with COVID-19 affect my pay or my sickness record? (Updated November 2021)
Staff should receive their full pay, that is, the pay they would have received had they been at work. Line managers will record COVID-19 (coronavirus) sickness as special leave category ‘Public Serv Duties Paid’ on HRPTS. Line managers should continue to send in timesheets for any enhancements and additional hours that a staff member would have worked had they been in work.
In order to mitigate any risks of COVID-19 (coronavirus) spreading across the organisation it is important that staff with symptoms do not come into the workplace. Short-term sickness absence related to COVID-19 will not be used for the purpose of absence triggers.
Long-term sickness absence related to COVID-19 (coronavirus) will be managed under the specific COVID-19 sickness absence guidance in your Trust.
The provisions for COVID-19 sickness absence and full pay protection are currently under regional review.
21. I am on annual leave but have been advised to self-isolate at home or remain away from the workplace
, during the period when I would have been on annual leave. What happens to these annual leave days? (Updated April 2022)
If you have been advised to self-isolate or remain away from the workplace due to COVID-19 (e.g. a close contact of a positive case under the HSC Occupational Health COVID-19 Toolkit)
You may wish to work from home during this period if you feel well enough to do so but must inform your manager of this.
Your manager will record your absence as “Risk Assessed(Paid)” on HRPTS if you are not working from home and you can apply to use your annual leave days at another date
The same practice will apply to statutory holidays if you are required to self-isolate or remain away from the workplace on any of these days but you must inform your manager at the time.
This does not apply if you are on annual leave and during this time you are required to take care of a dependant. If you need to take care of a dependant because, for example, their normal caring or schooling arrangements have been adversely affect due to COVID-19, then please refer to the ‘Caring Responsibilities’ FAQs below.
TERMS AND CONDITIONS
22. How will my annual/statutory leave be affected by the ongoing arrangements at this time? (Updated April 2022)
Health & Social Care NI encourages staff to have regular breaks and annual leave for both wellbeing and safety purposes, however, there may be occasions when your annual / statutory leave is affected due to service pressures. Your Manager should have a discussion with you in cases where such leave has to be postponed or otherwise affected due to service pressures. You will still be entitled to the accrued leave and your employer’s normal Annual Leave and Working Time guidance will apply. You are strongly encouraged to plan your leave including all carried over leave this year as extra carryover of leave will end at the conclusion of this leave year.
23. Will I be paid overtime if I am part-time and work additional hours? (Updated April 2022)
No. Part-time staff who work additional hours will be paid at plain time rates until their hours exceed standard hours of work, in line with their terms and conditions. (Standard hours of work: 37.5 hours per week for Agenda for Change, 40 hours per week for Medical and Dental)
24. I am working from home, can I claim costs associated with electricity, heat and broadband? (Updated April 2022)
You may be able to claim tax relief for some of the bills you have to pay because you have to work at home on a regular basis. You cannot claim tax relief if you choose to work from home. From April 2020 the rate is up to approximately £6 a week (£26 per month) to cover additional costs. For previous tax years the rate is £4 a week (£18 a month). You can only claim for things to do with your work, for example, business telephone calls or the extra cost of gas and electricity for your work area. You cannot claim for things that you use for both private and business use, for example, rent or broadband access.
The above is not tax or financial advice and is for guidance use only. Staff should take specific, professional advice from a tax or financial advisor if they want guidance on their circumstances.
Employees should seek guidance from HMRC as necessary - claims are made through a P87 form.
25. What is the policy if staff do not adhere to COVID-19 Guidance? (Updated April 2022)
All staff from across Health and Social care have pulled together to help to respond to COVID-19. Staff have worked tirelessly in the most challenging circumstances to ensure patients, clients, service users and colleagues are as safe as possible.
Our learning from COVID-19 is we all must adhere to the NI Executive and Public Health guidance in all circumstances – both in our workplace and in our social/ personal life.
In the event that the organisation becomes aware that staff have not adhered to the Guidance, the circumstances will be reviewed, screened and in repeat and/or serious cases investigated under the Trust Disciplinary Policy.
More information on adherence to COVID-19 Guidance is available here.
WORKFORCE CAPACITY - REDEPLOYMENT, AND RETIREMENT
26. Am I likely to be redeployed? (Updated April 2022)
In accordance with contracts of employment, some staff will be required to redeploy and/or relocate to another service area within the Trust or to another HSC Trust to ensure the provision of essential services to our patients/clients, or to ensure HSC frontline staff are adequately supported to deliver health and social care in the most challenging of circumstances. Regulatory bodies have produced guidance for staff in these circumstances and these can be accessed from their websites.
Your personal and health circumstances will be taken into account, and our terms and conditions will be adhered to, including provision of excess mileage in line with their terms and conditions.
Responding to COVID-19 is necessitating the highest level of team working across our service, to ensure our patients, clients and staff are safely cared for. Working together continues to be more critical than ever before and the flexibility and co-operation of our staff is greatly appreciated.
27. If I am to be redeployed I am worried about how I will know what to do in a different role. Will I receive training? (Updated April 2022)
Consideration will be given to what is reasonable redeployment and yes, necessary induction and where appropriate relevant training will take place to enable you to take on different duties, however please be assured that you will only be asked to take on tasks within your competence. Where you are working outside your normal role, you should be very mindful of the need to work within your scope of competence and not undertake work which you are not trained or competent to do.
28. If I, as a result of agreed temporary redeployment, am undertaking work of a lower band in another area, will my terms and conditions be protected and will I receive mileage expenses? (Updated April 2022)
Yes, your terms and conditions will be protected if you work in another area during your contracted hours. Staff who are asked to change base on a temporary basis which results in extra daily travelling expenses can claim excess mileage in line with their terms and conditions.
29. If I, as a result of agreed temporary redeployment am required by the service to work during periods which attract enhancements will I receive payment at an enhanced rate for these periods? (Updated April 2022)
Yes, staff will be paid in line with their Terms and Conditions.
30. If I, as a result of an agreed temporary redeployment to another service have a different working pattern will I continue to attract the enhanced payments that I previously received. (Updated April 2022)
Staff should suffer no financial detriment following a change in their working pattern. Payment should equate to what the staff member would have previously received.
31. If I am as a result of an agreed temporary redeployment working on another site managed by external organisation will I continue to be paid by my current Trust. (Updated April 2022)
To support the regional HSCNI response to COVID-19 it may be necessary for staff to be deployed to work on other sites managed by an external organisation (e.g. another HSC Trust). Staff will remain on their current Trust’s payroll. Staff should suffer no financial detriment as a result of this redeployment.
32. As part of Covid-19 contingencies, I have returned to HSC employment having very recently retired. Am I able to work more than the 16 hours per week in the first four weeks following retirement? (Updated April 2022)
The legislation announced on 17 March 2020 temporarily suspended the 16-hour rule which currently prevents staff who return to work after retirement from the HSC Pension Scheme from working more than 16 hours per week in the first four weeks after retirement. It will also temporarily suspend abatement for special class status holders in the 1995 section of the Scheme, as well as the requirement for staff in the 2008 Section and 2015 HSC Pension Scheme to reduce their pensionable pay by 10% if they elect to ‘draw down’ a portion of their benefits and continue working.
These measures will allow skilled and experienced staff who have recently retired from the HSC to return to work, and they will also allow retired staff who have already returned to work to increase their commitments if required, without having their pension benefits abated. This will provide valuable capacity to the HSC.
This suspension of this legislation will has been extended until 31 October 2022
CARING RESPONSIBILITIES - SCHOOLS AND DEPENDANTS .
33. I need to take care of a dependant at short notice because, for example, their normal caring or schooling arrangements have been adversely affect due to COVID-19. What flexibility is there? (Updated April 2022)
Your manager should take into account the fact there is little notice due to the criticality of the situation and do their best to support you in putting in place suitable caring arrangements. However, if a child/dependant is of an age or condition where they need supervision and care, then parents will have to consider various flexible working options such as working from home, if possible.
It is recognised however that due to the nature of particular jobs, working from home is not always possible. Therefore, a blend of the following options may be suited better to individual needs:
- Carer’s/Dependant’s leave
- Change of shifts/hours/compressed hours/ working times/weekend work/ use of TOIL already worked up
- Ability to take time off and work it back at a later stage (within a six month period)
- Parental leave (unpaid) during this period where applicable.
- Use of Annual leave
You are advised to speak with your manager as soon as possible to see which of these options or which blend of options would be feasible, appropriate and how best this can be accommodated.
Your manager will be as flexible and innovative as they can in helping you deciding what options are best for you and the service you work in.
34. My child’s school has advised that my child has to self-isolate due to a COVID-19 issue in the school and I will also have to stay off work. Will I have to provide any verification of this to my manager? (Updated April 2022)
The NI Contact Tracing Service or Schools team in PHA will communicate with parents if your child has been deemed a close contact and what actions are required to be taken.
You should provide any documentary evidence of such requests to your manager as soon as you are notified of this.
ATTENDANCE AT TRAINING & CONFERENCES
35. What are the arrangements for training, course, conferences during this period of time? (Updated April 2022)
While Covid restrictions continue to ease, the threat of Covid-19 transmission remains prevalent. Staff should continue to be mindful of this threat and the need to protect themselves, the public and other staff when facilitating or attending courses, training and conferences as part of their role.
With this in mind key principles to be adhered to include:
- A risk assessment approach should be followed
- a need to continue to focus on the mandatory/essential training required to enable the upskilling/training of staff including doctors and dentists in regulated training programmes, those with named educational roles, those redeployed to new roles and new starts;
- where events and training are non-essential, consideration should be given to the nature of the role and if there are any CPD requirements e.g. staff in training;
- Digital or remote learning options should be provided where possible and such training ensuring staff are given appropriate time and resources to enable them to attend and participate.
- Where learning cannot be delivered remotely, to reduce risk when delivering or facilitating face-to-face sessions, these should adhere to social distancing guidelines.
- Where there is a mandatory practical element that cannot be delivered in any other way then the venue should be approved and appropriately risk assessed and Professional Education Leads must provide for appropriate PPE and infection prevention and control.
- Work related travel and attendance at regional, national or international courses and conferences other than virtual events should be considered in line with up to date Government guidance on travel and must be approved before travel by the relevant Operational Assistant Director.
Staff attending face to face training:
- must not attend face to face training if they feel unwell, have symptoms of Covid 19 or have been told they have been in recent contact of someone who has Covid 19.
- are encouraged to undertake lateral flow testing for all prior to attending, external training providers are also encouraged to do this also
VACCINATION FOR HSC STAFF
36. Am I eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine? (Updated April 2022)
Healthcare workers have been eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine since the start of the Northern Ireland COVID-19 vaccination roll out in December 2020.
Frontline healthcare workers are also currently eligible to receive their booster, provided 3 months has elapsed from their second dose.
If you are have not yet received your first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine you can still attend a community pharmacy. A full list of community pharmacies which are offering first doses can be found at the following link: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/get-covid-19-vaccination-northern-ireland
If you have not yet received your second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine you can attend a number of walk-in in vaccination clinics in order to do so. You can also attend a community pharmacy or any of the first dose clinics. A full list of clinics where you can receive your second dose can be found here: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/get-covid-19-vaccination-northern-ireland#toc-2
If three months have passed since your second dose you will be eligible for a booster dose as a frontline healthcare worker. Booster doses can be booked online via the Get Vaccination Portal: https://covid-19.hscni.net/get-vaccinated/
You can also book to receive your annual flu vaccine at the same time as your COVID booster via the link above.
If you have further queries about the COVID-19 vaccines such as safety, side effects, pregnancy, fertility, breast feeding, you can visit PHA’s Vaccine FAQ page, found here: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus/northern-ireland-covid-19-vaccination-programme/covid-19-vaccination-programme
37. How do I get an appointment for the vaccine? (Updated April 2022)
First, second and booster COVID-19 vaccine doses are available at Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust vaccination hubs and participating community pharmacies across Northern Ireland.
Click here for further information https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/get-covid-19-vaccination-and-booster-northern-ireland
38. What if I have side effects/become unwell following the vaccination, how will this be recorded? (Updated May 2022)
In line with the PHA ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (Question No. 27) Line Managers will record COVID-19 sickness (related to the vaccination) as special leave category ‘Public Serv Duties Paid’ on HRPTS
39. If I choose not to have the vaccination, will my employment be at risk? (Updated April 2022)
Health and Social Care Staff are encouraged to have the COVID 19 Vaccine to protect themselves, their patients, clients, families, friends and wider community. If staff choose not to have the vaccination, their employment will not be at risk. In the event that their role involves working with those who are particularly at risk, the Line Manager may discuss this with the member of staff and revisit the COVID-19 Risk assessment for this work and explore options available if this is necessary. These discussions will be on an individual basis and support for managers will be available from HR and Occupational Health.
40. Do I have to disclose to my manager whether I have had the vaccination or not? (Updated April 2022)
This information will be gathered as part of the recording of the details regarding the uptake of vaccinations at the relevant vaccination centres. Whilst we appreciate that this vaccination is not mandatory, it is expected that staff disclose to their appropriate manager when they have received the vaccination. This also allows for the support of staff who have had the vaccination, in the event of any reactions to this.