During this devastating period of the coronavirus pandemic, there are staff who may well have essential front-line NHS jobs but who, for whatever reason, need to accept the government’s instruction to stay at home. This is a decision that individuals might make for themselves or that their employer might make for them. But no employer should be stating when someone should be back at work! To me, it’s a matter of treating people, your staff, with respect and courtesy.
Being fair and reasonable
It’s a worrying and delicate situation. Staff need to be careful not to take advantage of the situation, and employers need to be careful not to go over the top by insisting that staff should be at work or return to work before it’s safe to do so. I have to say, one of the dangers of being a GP and an employer is the risk of offering advice or an opinion that’s not shared by the employee’s own GP.
Health and safety
The health and safety of our doctors and their staff must be of paramount importance. Employers have a duty to ensure that all possible steps are taken to provide PPE and a safe environment in which to work. It strikes me that if this isn’t possible, a facility should close and staff should resort to home-working.
Is there consistency in staff contracts?
Regrettably, practice managers and their employers are rushed off their feet right now and may not have the time to decide what they’ll do or what they’ll accept (or not accept) in every circumstance that arises. I think the problem is exacerbated by the independent nature of general practice and its reluctance to accept a standard set of terms and conditions of employment, which is offered by NHS Employers to those working in hospitals and community and mental health services. Medical practices have a wide range of different terms and conditions for sick leave, which will be causing consternation in many a surgery. There are practices that have adopted an SSP pay only approach. From research carried out a couple of years ago, there seem to be very few that use the NHS terms and conditions. There are also those practices that use a mixture of NHS terms and conditions and their own terms and conditions. The majority have their own contract terms and some may now be finding that there are elements not covered in these.
Defining moment in general practice
This is a time when NHS Employers and those in general practice will be defined by the approach they take when staff are at home for whatever reason. Practices need to remember that they are government funded. The funding is intended to run general practice. There are legitimate reasons why some practices are short of money, but staff need to be put first and not penalised because somebody has decided on a cut in expenditure on staffing. So, be fair and reasonable. My view would be that unless staff agree to something different, they should be paid while taking on board the government’s instruction to stay at home, if they have symptoms or a family member has symptoms. The isolation periods may not be precisely 7 or 14 days either; they may fall into the 12-week isolation category. This is happening across the UK in every field of employment. Keep your staff fully informed. Protect your staff against risks as much as you possibly can. Take this opportunity to ask your staff in confidence for a description of any health or family problems that may affect their ability to work. Encourage them to be open and honest. You need to trust them. But most importantly, keep up the good work of providing an essential service.
Author – Robert Campbell