Care home workers who have tested positive for coronavirus could have to finish their shift if there are staff shortages, new guidance states.
Health Protection Scotland’s latest advice for care homes says a staff member would have to continue working if their absence would “create an unacceptable risk to the safety of the care being provided”.
But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that would only happen “in extremis”, and said affected staff wouldn’t deal directly with residents.
“This is about making sure that a care home is not left, even for a short period of time, without the right level of cover, because that would also pose a danger to residents in the care home,” Sturgeon said.
Although the guidance states it would be acceptable for infected staff to work with residents who are also known to have the virus, the First Minister and Scotland’s chief nursing officer Fiona McQueen claimed this would not be the case.
Sturgeon said: “We’re talking – in extremis, for a very short period of time – of a member of staff not simply walking out the door.
“But they would not be – if they had tested positive – providing direct clinical care to a resident.
“But the more contingency planning that care home providers do, the less likely it will be for care homes to be in that situation.”
Ms McQueen said she hopes infected staff can be replaced on their shift in “minutes and hours”, and it would only apply to staff in a relatively small number of specific roles, such as a registered nurse.
Sturgeon argued the families of residents would want care homes to remain “safe and secure”, meaning an infected staff member would be required to remain in the building.
She added: “This is not about taking unacceptable risks with people who have the virus.”
The guidance, issued to care homes on Thursday, states: “There might be circumstances where there could be an unavoidable delay in replacing all test-positive staff immediately. This could create an unacceptable risk to the safety of the care being provided.
“If such a situation occurred, then any staff that had to continue working must only do so for the absolute minimum period (eg to complete a shift), pending their replacement.”
It advises them to continue to wear appropriate PPE or maintain social distancing if their mask is removed, eat and drink in a separate room alone or with other infected staff members, and “only work with residents already known to be infected themselves”.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Friday, Sturgeon also revealed she knows of seven deaths of NHS staff and eight fatalities among social care workers after contracting Covid-19.
She offered her condolences to the families of all those who have died, and added: “One really important point to stress is that we can’t confirm how many of these staff actually contracted the virus through their work.
“It may be that an individual was not even at work when they got it, so it’s people who work in these professions who have sadly died, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will have contracted the virus at their work.”