Workplace Report October 2021

Health & safety news

NHS unions warn: Covid plan is inadequate

Ministers must not wait for infections to spiral before bringing back masks and social distancing rules, said UNISON public services union general secretary Christina McAnea, commenting on the government’s autumn and winter Covid plan.

She said making mask wearing optional in the summer was a mistake, and that health workers are struggling with rising Covid hospital admissions as well as a backlog of non-Covid care. There are too few staff “all worn out from their previous pandemic efforts” in both health and social care, she added.

Prime minister Boris Johnson announced that vaccines continue to be the first line of defence, symptomatic PCR testing and legal obligations to self-isolate will continue, and lateral flow tests will remain free for now.

He also announced “Plan B” measures, including mandatory vaccine-only Covid status certification in certain, riskier settings; legally mandating face coverings in public transport and shops; and asking people to work from home again.

However, the government will only use these measures “if necessary, and if a range of metrics and indicators mean the NHS is at risk of becoming overwhelmed”.

The BMA doctors’ union said vaccines alone will not be enough to curtail the escalating impact of Covid infections, and “if we continue on this course without other preventative measures put in place now, the challenges coming our way could go from being achievable to totally insurmountable.”