Department of Health and Social Care announce critical workers exemption to close contact self-isolation (including in the care sector)

On Monday evening (19 July) the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care published confirmation that “in exceptional circumstances where there would otherwise be a major detrimental impact on essential services – a limited number of critical workers may be informed by their employer, following advice from the relevant government department, that they may be able to leave self-isolation to attend work.”

Employers will be notified by their governing department if the rules apply to critical workers in their sector but the Department of Health and Social Care has already published a separate release confirming that this scheme will apply to fully vaccinated “frontline NHS and social care staff in England”. Someone is treated as fully vaccinated if it has been at least 14 days since their second vaccination.

The scheme will only apply where the worker is an asymptomatic contact of someone who has tested positive. If they themselves have tested positive or have developed symptoms, it will not apply and they will be required to self-isolate in the normal way. Workers will still remain under a legal duty to self-isolate as a close contact when they are not in work.

The release says that critical workplaces which apply this will have to follow conditions to minimise the risk of transmission, including:

  1. The workers who attend will need to take a PCR test as soon as possible ( and not attend work pending receipt of this result).
  2. They must then follow this with daily LFD tests before attending work each day for the period they would have spent in self-isolation. Test results should be reported to NHS Test and Trace via the web portal and to the worker’s  duty manager
  3. The release says workplaces “will follow other safeguards, including ensuring that social distancing is maintained and face coverings worn at all times”.

If the worker tests positive or starts to show symptoms, they must go into self-isolation.

The Department of Health guidance makes it clear that this will only apply to frontline NHS and social care staff :

  1. where their absence may lead to a significant risk of harm” and
  2. the decision to apply the exemption to a particular worker has been made after  “a risk assessment by the organisation’s management” and
  3. the decision “must be authorised by the organisation’s local Director of Infection Prevention and Control, the lead professional for health protection, or the Director of Public Health relevant to the organisation” and
  4. the worker should not work with” clinically extremely vulnerable patients or residents, as determined by the organisation”.

The wider exemption from contact self-isolation for all double vaccinated individuals starts from 16 August.

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