15 May 2020

Fast, comprehensive and accessible testing, and the ongoing, ample supply of protective kit are among measures that must be in place for the NHS to be opened up safely as the UK begins to ease the lockdown, say health unions.

The British Dietetic Association (BDA), along with 15 sister unions, have drawn up a nine-point blueprint, which also calls for staff to be paid properly for every hour worked.

The BDA want to ensure that – as out-patient clinics and operations resume – the NHS continues to operate a safety-first approach.

This means maintaining the two-metre rule, allowing certain staff to continue working from home and regularly redeploying those in high-risk areas to ones under less pressure.

Otherwise there could be a leap in infection rates which risks overwhelming the NHS, the document warns.

The BDA and sister unions represent more than a million staff working in the NHS across the UK – including dietitians, dietetic support workers, porters, nurses, radiographers, physiotherapists, midwives, 999-call handlers, cleaners, healthcare assistants, and paramedics.

They all want to avoid a repeat of the protective equipment (PPE) supply problems experienced earlier in the pandemic. These shortages sapped staff confidence, causing widespread and unnecessary anxiety.

Access to readily available PPE is especially important as employers in other parts of the economy begin to open up their workplaces and source protective kit for staff.

The blueprint also suggests that, over the next few months, trust managers deploy many of the 40,000 staff who’ve returned to the NHS to relieve areas experiencing staffing shortages. Their presence could allow overworked staff some much-needed time off.

While the priority remains saving lives, and keeping health workers and patients safe, unions are calling on the government to ensure staff working through the pandemic get proper overtime and are paid for every hour they’re at work.

Unions want NHS employers to work with them so that the high value the public has placed on staff is reflected in pay talks due to take place later this year. There can be no return to pay freezes and austerity.

“Dietitians have been working in ICUs and in the community to keep covid-patients alive and help them recover during this pandemic.” Says Annette Mansell-Green, BDA Trade Union Director.

“In order to keep patients and staff safe and control infections, many dietetic services have stopped appointments and moved to using telecare appointments.

“Some dietetic departments have also seen a reduction in referrals due to the pause in non-urgent operations and cancer care.

“As we move to open those appointments and treatments back up – it is vital that staff and patients are kept safe with appropriate testing, PPE and distancing measures.

“Many patients who have been waiting for the last few months will now need to be seen, and we must maintain safe staffing levels as we tackle this back-log as quickly as possible.

“The public have shown their support and gratitude to NHS workers during this pandemic – this blueprint offers a plan to keep those workers and their patients safe as we move forward.”