The rules form part of the health service’s strategy for restoring normal services after the biggest upheaval in its history, in which 30,000 extra intensive care beds were provided to make sure the system was not overwhelmed by severely ill virus patients.
NHS experts have this week warned that significant disruption will last for many months, due both to the need to retain greater than normal intensive care capacity in case of further surges of coronavirus and that to segregate services on a Covid/non-Covid basis, which hampers efficiency.
Social distancing of two metres should happen both inside and outside clinical areas, for example “during work breaks and when in communal areas”, the guidance says.
Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director for the NHS, said: “The number one priority for NHS staff over the last three months has been ensuring that all those who need urgent care, not just those with coronavirus, have been able to get it when they need it – and we have achieved that.
“Combined with the need to avoid unnecessary contact to reduce the spread of the virus, this has meant it has been the right thing, clinically, for some non-urgent appointments and surgeries to be postponed.
“Now that we are confident that we have passed the first peak of coronavirus, it is important that we bring back those services where we can – but only where that can be done safely. The virus is still circulating, and we don’t want to put our patients, the public or our staff at greater risk.”
On Thursday, The Telegraph revealed that Public Health England had approved as accurate the first high-quality antibody test, which checks whether people have previously had the virus.
Roche Diagnostics has promised to provide hundreds of thousands of tests to the NHS each week, subject to Matt Hanock, the Health Secretary, striking a deal to buy them. The new guidance says NHS staff will be first in line to receive the test.