Covid-19 - Staffing, Reimbursements and other employment terms
NHSE have released the details of the Covid-19 Fund for general practice. The letter contains the dates and mechanisms for claiming reimbursements during covid-19.
NHSE issued a further letter detailing £150m additional support for general practice, referred to as the General Practice Covid Capacity Expansion Fund. Accessing the fund will be via the CCG/ICS and will be conditional on practices and PCNs continuing to complete national appointment and workforce data in line with existing contractual requirements. The expectations is that this funding will support capacity and backfill to manage backlogs and help restore general practice to pre-covid levels.
There are also some income funding protections in place for general practice and we have a dedicated page that details these along with the links to the NHSE letters of such.
Acas has dedicated Covid-19 information pages for Employers (and Employees, this will help Employers understand what an employee can expect)
There is another website with Covid-19 advice around employment, Money Advice Services. This is aimed at employees, however, I think it is useful in informing employers of an employee expectation or entitlement.
The Government has put into place a scheme whereby employers are able to claim refunds for 2 weeks SSP for every eligible employee who is self-isolating due to covid-19. This also applies if anyone is advised to self isolate for 10 days before having surgery. You are advised to check the full details for the most up to date guidance. However NHSE had the following message in their PC Bulletin (27th Nov 20)
GP practice staff absent from work due to COVID-19, suspected COVID-19 or shielding
We encourage practices to pay full pay to any GP practice staff who are absent from work with COVID-19, suspected COVID-19 (self-isolating) or who are clinically extremely vulnerable and are therefore unable to come into the workplace and see patients face to face (shielding).
Where it is appropriate, for example if shielding, self-isolating or well enough to do so, GP Practice staff should be encouraged and supported to work remotely where possible, in light of the home working solutions that NHS England & NHS Improvement has facilitated. Where GP practice staff are absent due to COVID-19, suspected COVID-19 (self-isolating) or shielding and are unable to work from home, practices are strongly encouraged to continue to pay staff full pay.
NHS England & NHS Improvement has announced £150m of additional funding to practices via the General Practice Covid Capacity Expansion Fund, available until March 2021, to support additional capacity in general practice and to deliver seven priority areas, as set out in the letter published on 9 November 2020.One of these areas is provision of funding for backfill for staff absences, where it is agreed by the CCG, required to meet demand, and the individual is not able to work remotely.
We have been asked if the government job retention scheme, that allows employers to furlough staff and claim back up to 80% of staff wages, will apply to practices. The scheme guidance indicates that public sector and public-funded jobs are not eligible for the scheme.
The guidance states:-
If you receive public funding
If you have staff costs that are publicly funded (even if you’re not in the public sector), you should use that money to continue paying your staff, and not furlough your staff.
Organisations can use the scheme if they are not fully funded by public grants and they should contact their sponsor department or respective administration for further guidance.
First Practice Management offer advice on HR considerations around possible challenges with employees returning to work.
As the LMC is not qualified to give formal HR advice and guidance, we always recommend seeking formal specialist HR guidance where necessary.
Summary of Government update to Working Time Regulations
Staff who have not taken all of their statutory annual leave entitlement due to COVID-19 will now be able to carry it over into the next 2 leave years.
The regulations will allow up to 4 weeks of unused leave to be carried into the next 2 leave years, easing the requirements on business to ensure that workers take statutory amount of annual leave in any one year.
The Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 amends the Working Time Regulations 1998 to create a further exemption relating specifically to COVID-19. Where it is not reasonably practicable for a worker to take some, or all, of the holiday to which they are entitled due to the coronavirus, they have a right to carry the 4 weeks under regulation 13 into the next 2 leave years. (This will not apply to the 1.6 weeks under regulation 13A leave, but this can be carried forward one year by agreement between workers and employers. Read the full details for further information on this).
The full details go on to advise that the regulations giving a right to paid annual leave do not apply to: the activities of workers who are doctors in training. We would suggest that further specialist advice should be sought on this point if needed.
The full details can be read at:-
Holiday Travel Abroad
One FAQ that has been raised is about practice staff and foreign holiday travel. If a member of a practice team wishes to continue with their planned holiday abroad, under current travel guidance, the government confirmed (31st July 2020) any registered health and care professionals traveling to England from high-risk countries will be required to self-isolate on their return, (depending upon which countries they have travelled from). The current self isolation period is 10 days.
Does the practice have to pay them full pay or sick pay for those 10 days of self-isolation or can they
a) ask the employee not to take a foreign holiday
b) ask them to take unpaid leave for the 10 days of self-isolation?
We took some informal advice on this matter and were given the following reply :
- If an employee knows that by taking a holiday abroad they will have to self isolate for 10 days on return then they have to factor that into their holiday. They cannot expect and there is no obligation for full or part pay during that time. That is the employee choice.
- The normal rules of the employment contract should apply and they will either need to take that as further holiday or, without pay, or with the consent of the employer make suitable arrangements to work from home.
We do, as always, advise practices to take formal HR advice should they need to.
Staff Risk Assessments
Please see our dedicated page for this at:- https://www.wessexlmcs.com/covid19staffriskassessments
Death in Service - The NHS and Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme 2020
The Secretary of State for Health has announced that staff who are performing vital frontline NHS or social care work during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak may be eligible for a life assurance scheme, recognising the increased risks they are currently facing.
In the event of a staff member dying due to COVID-19 a lump sum payment of £60,000 will be made to their estate, if they meet the qualifying work-related criteria for the scheme. The life assurance scheme is non-contributory, meaning there is no cost to staff or employers.
Other Terms and Conditions
The BMA have terms and conditions advice for doctors with contracts of employment, in particular can holidays be cancelled by an employer. The answer is yes, within reason. The BMA goes into more detail about this. The principles could apply to any employee with a contract.