NIPSA wanted to update you on the work that has been ongoing on behalf of our members to ensure your health and safety during this unprecedented time. This is a lengthy update, but there are important issues to be covered and we wanted to ensure you had a full update as to what NIPSA has been doing on your behalf.

PPE and Testing

NIPSA has taken a very robust view on the need for our members to have the protection of PPE and Testing across the HSC. Having the appropriate PPE is a fundamental Health and Safety issue that is enshrined in legislation to protect workers. In relation to both PPE and Testing we have written to the NI Executive Ministers and the Chief Social Worker (10 April and 15 April) in order that we raise the serious concerns of our members when we have demanded a definitive statement from the NI Executive setting out the availability and distribution of PPE and Testing to workers across the HSC.

We have called that there is no disparity across Hospital and Community Services regarding the availability of PPE and that our members working in the community have equal access to protection when carrying out their vital services for vulnerable client groups.

Where there have been conflicting views presented to NIPSA about the availability of PPE in certain work areas this has been challenged by our local reps and branches to ensure that at all times appropriate PPE has been provided to members. NIPSA has called for clear guidance to be issued and updated as the Covid-19 pandemic progresses, so that members in both Hospital and Community services are clear about how PPE should be used to best protect them and when.

We are aware that concerns remain and would ask members to continue to raise all issues through their Branch structures where this can be raised directly with local management and escalated to Regional levels if and when required. NIPSA at the NIC ICTU level are also involved in raising these issues with Government.

In relation to Testing NIPSA at all levels has been involved in discussions and correspondence to ramp up the availability to have our members tested and whilst this has moved someway in the right direction we still have serious reservations about how many workers remain untested and worried about their health both in work and at home and that of their families. We will continue to raise these matters at local, regional and up to First/Deputy First and Health Minister level.

The Ministers response dated 14 April 2020 is available here.

Advice on Social Distancing

Below is an extract from the Public Health Authority Question and Answers.

16. How will social distancing be handled in the workplace? (24/03/2020)

Managers should work with their staff to put in place social distancing in office environments to ensure staff can remain 2 metres apart. This may include spreading staff across any available offices or alternative shift patterns, e.g. early morning or evening working, or weekend working.

For more see PHA Questions and Answers page

As you can see from the above, social distancing includes reducing the number of persons in any work area to comply with the 2 metre gap recommended by the Public Health Agency. In an effort to comply with this, in some cases will mean taking steps to protect your own health and wellbeing:

  • Members in conjunction with management may want to review their work schedules including start and finish times/shift patterns, working from home, (when possible), to reduce the number of staff on site at any one time.
  • Conference calls to be used instead unless a meeting is vital and can be held with proper social distancing in place
  • Ensuring rotas are brought in for rest and lunch breaks to limit the number of staff meeting for breaks at the same time.
  • Splitting teams across different offices or indeed sites.
  • If none of the above can be achieved, then as an employer we have no other option but to send staff home, until a suitable work around solution can be established.

NIPSA accepts that in some areas of work i.e. learning disability residential facilities, there are challenges to maintain social distancing. NIPSA’s advice is for members to take all reasonable steps to implement social distancing as far as possible and to discuss this with management and your work colleagues to identify how this can best be implemented, taking account of appropriated PPE. In “normal” work settings NIPSA’s advice is clear: Under no circumstances should you be in the workplace and not keep appropriate social distancing measures. If any issues arise, please contact your NIPSA representative as a matter of urgency

Working From Home

Each Trust will have its own Guidelines and this is a general advice on securing home working and working safely from home.

The Government advice is clear if you can undertake your role from home then management should be facilitating this. If you believe this is the case and you are still attending work approach your manager in the first instance. If this is unsuccessful then contact your NIPSA representative to intercede.

NIPSA’s priority is your health and wellbeing. This guide will give advice on working from home and information on your wellbeing.

Staff Member Responsibilities

Members who have the agreement of their Head of Service/Assistant Director to work from home should comply with all Trust policies and procedures whilst working whether at their home or on Trust premises including complying full with your obligations in respect of confidentiality and data protection.

Practical Tips for Successful Home Working

It’s easy to lose touch with team members who are suddenly working apart. However, with a few shared principles you can feel like you're all in the same room:

  • Find a suitable spot to work – somewhere quiet that you can talk freely and sit comfortably.
  • NIPSA would encourage a regular time to check-in with your team – even if it’s only to say ‘Hello!’
  • Consider setting up a Video Conferencing tool on your laptop –so you can have virtual team meetings to stay in touch.
  • Discuss the best way of working to suit your team – share tips about how to get the best out of shared workspaces, like Desktop Client (Video Conferencing), and chat tools, like WhatsApp
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Make sure you take your proper breaks.
  • Ensure you take some exercise

Further Management info can be found here:

Guidance for the Public on the Mental Health and Wellbeing Aspects of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Looking after your mental health during the Coronavirus outbreak

Pregnant Healthcare Workers

In the UK, there already exists a significant protection in law for pregnant workers. These must be followed in relation to COVID-19. NHS Employers should do everything possible to maintain the health of their pregnant employees. The central aspect of this protection is based on risk assessment of each individual pregnant worker’s working environment and the role they play.

More HSE info can be found here.

NIPSA Advice for Members in the Workplace

As you can see from the information above:

  • Pregnant staff in conjunction with line managers/Occupational Health should be ensuring that a risk assessment is undertaken into the risks within the workplace e.g. working environment and role undertaken by the staff member. Any potential risk includes those associated with Biological Agents i.e Infectious Diseases.
  • Based on the information above this risk assessment should identify, what, if any risks there are in the work environment and the staff member’s role and what reasonable action should be taken to minimise the risk posed to the staff member. These reasonable actions could include altering working conditions or hours, suitable alternative duties/role (on terms as favourable as the staff member’s regular employment), working from home where possible etc.
  • The risk assessment should be monitored and reviewed regularly with amendments/updates made as necessary throughout the pregnancy. This process should include both the staff member and line manager.
  • If no reasonable actions can be identified and/or implemented to minimise the risk to the expectant mother then, as a last resort, the staff member can be placed on ‘medical’ suspension. Any ‘medical’ suspension should only last as long as necessary to protect the health and safety of mother and baby. Throughout the duration of the ‘medical’ suspension the staff member should receive their normal pay and contractual benefits.
  • If any member of staff is encountering any difficulties NIPSA would ask members to immediately contact their local branch representatives for assistance/advice/guidance.
Childcare for Essential Workers

NIPSA has been pressing for further clarity on childcare arrangements for essential workers and more details available in this article. 


Summary

NIPSA has been contacted by members raising concerns around redeployment as a result of dealing with the current Covid-19 outbreak. As a result, NIPSA is drawing up a list of FAQs and will publish this shortly.

NIPSA has also been dealing with issues surrounding the role of agency workers and is currently engaged with management to try and ensure that our members who are employed through an agency are not disadvantaged as result of the current situation.

NIPSA has also been dealing with the issue of death in service, and while this is not a subject that anyone particularly wants to deal with at this time, NIPSA will ensure that the necessary support for our members and their families is there during this pandemic should the worst happen.

NIPSA will continue to provide updates regularly for our members and we would encourage all members to regularly check the NIPSA – C-19 Advice for Healthcare Workers page for more information.

If you have any further queries or issues, please do continue to raise them with your local Branch and these can be escalated where required.

Maria Morgan
Assistant Secretary