Coronavirus: What happens now?

We are still in the early stage of the NHS response to the pandemic but things are beginning to ramp up. There is currently a shift in strategy and the NHS is currently trying to contact those people who are at higher risk and who will need to be shielded. Shielding (guidance here) is a measure to protect people who are clinically extremely vulnerable by minimising all interaction between those who are extremely vulnerable and others. It is currently envisaged to last 12 weeks. Obviously, this is an extraordinary ask of people and as such we are mobilising a workforce of NHS staff, council staff and volunteers to provide all kinds of extra support.

We are still trying to identify everyone at added risk. Some of you will have received a letter from the government, some will have had a text and some will hear from the practice via call/text/letter in the next few weeks.

We suspect as shielding is ramped up the current social distancing methods currently in place for the whole country will be gradually relaxed (or again stepped up in case of new breakouts) as the situation evolves.

Be aware that this guidance will probably change again in the next days.

Advice for self-isolation and shielding for employees and employers

The government’s current rules around issuing a sick note are that medical professionals can only issue one when an individual has had more than seven continuous calendar days off sick due to an illness (including weekends).

For any period of illness less than seven days, you are able to complete a self-certification certificate and provide this to your employer.

In light of the current Coronavirus situation, it is inevitable that a number of employees may be required to quarantine themselves at home even in the absence of any symptoms. In these cases, your GP will NOT be able to issue a sick note as the time off work is not due to an illness, and isn’t affecting your ability to work, but rather is a precaution to avoid transmission of any illness that is yet to produce symptoms.

We would therefore expect your employer to be sympathetic if you are required to self-isolate for 14 days and to understand that the reason for this is to protect the welfare of your work colleagues and the wider community. You may also be able to use 111 Online to request an isolation note to show to your employer if needed – however this service currently insists that you have symptoms.

We hope that the guidance will change to allow a 12 week shielding note but that has not happened yet.

Whilst we appreciate all this may lead to some difficulties between you and your employer, equally GPs have a responsibility to prioritise the assessment and management of the healthcare needs of patients who are actually unwell, rather than spending time dealing with requests for sick notes, particularly when they aren’t in a position to issue one.

Thank you for supporting us with our changed phone and online systems. You’ve all been brilliant so far.

And do wash your hands!

The Borchardt Medical Centre