COVID-19 (coronavirus) FAQs
Our frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and work
Find out how to protect yourself, what you should expect from your employer and what to do if you have concerns.
The information below has been compiled by RCN advisers in public health, infection control, and employment relations. We'll be updating it as the situation develops - so please do check back often.
We are working hard in these challenging times to keep you updated. If you can't find what you are looking for please see our Get help page or contact us and we will get back to you as soon as we can.
Am I allowed to car share for work purposes, for example when visiting patients in the community?
Under health and safety legislation, your employer and/or your placement provider, has a legal duty to carry out a COVID-19 workplace risk assessment. This includes sharing a car for the purposes of work for example, providing care in a patient's home.
As part of that risk assessment process, adequate control measures should be identified.
For the purposes of sharing a car, this might include:
- limiting the number of occupants to two (with the passenger sitting in the back of the car)
- keeping windows open (if practical to do so) and
- face coverings to be worn when sharing the vehicle.
The RCN risk assessment toolkit provides information and guidance on how to undertake a risk assessment, taking into consideration the responsibilities of both employers and employees, in accordance with the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Health and Safety at Work Order (Northern Ireland).
The requirement to carry out COVID-19 workplace risk assessments for healthcare workers will remain in place after the 1st April 2022.
Note: Your personal travel arrangements, before and after starting work, are not covered as part of your employer's risk assessment. However, you are advised to follow the same identified control measures.
Students should liaise with their placement provider for further information.
If you have concerns about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), please see our guidance on CPR and PPE.
See our clinical guidance pages for information and advice on issues including:
- infection prevention and control
- community nursing
- critical care
- delivering services in non-clinical environments
- DNACPR and verification of death
- COVID-19 vaccination
- mental health
- occupational health: supporting industry back to work
- palliative and end of life care
- prescribing safely under COVID-19
- professional issues, including the provision of CPR and the NMC Code
- skin health
- social care and care homes
- workplace risk assessment toolkit
See our guidance on prioritising personal safety.
If you are a student nurse, please see our Student nurses advice guide.
The UK governments have made financial provision in the event that eligible health care workers sadly die as a result of exposure to COVID-19 at work. These are known as Coronavirus Life Assurance schemes and are detailed in rules set out by health ministers under their delegated powers.
Members should refer to the individual scheme rules for eligibility criteria.
A one-off lump sum 'coronavirus life assurance' payment of £60,000 will be payable in the event of the death of a health and social care sector worker (who worked in a publicly funded service) who dies on or before 31 March 2022 as a result of COVID-19 and, it is likely that they contracted COVID-19 in the course of their work.
If you are a member of the NHS Pension Scheme your survivors will also receive the life assurance benefits you are entitled to under scheme rules. These are usually a lump sum plus an ongoing payment for a surviving partner and any dependent children.
This scheme ended on 31 March 2022. Claimants have until 31 March 2023 to submit claims for deaths that occurred while the scheme was open. Deaths which occurred before the announcement of the scheme will also be considered.
The RCN has written to the Secretary of State calling for an extension to the life assurance scheme, until a time when nursing staff and all health and care workers are assured that their lives are not at such risk from the pandemic.
The survivors of NHS staff who die as a result of COVID-19 exposure at work will receive coronavirus life assurance benefits. This includes a lump sum of twice the workers annual salary plus an ongoing pension payment for a surviving partner and any dependent children. If the worker is in the NHS Pension scheme, their coronavirus life assurance benefit will be reduced by the amount of life assurance they receive from the NHS Pension scheme.
If a publicly funded social care worker dies without death in service cover in their contracted pension arrangements, the Scottish Government will provide a one-off payment of £60,000 to a named survivor.
This scheme ended on 30 June 2022 and claimants will have until 30 June 2023 to submit claims for deaths that occurred while the scheme was open. For further information please see NHS Scotland Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme.
Northern IrelandIn 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 scheme is non-contributory, meaning there is no cost to staff or employers.
The Health and Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme is independent of the HSC Pension Scheme. Any lump sum or pension benefits payable to the relatives or dependents of HSC Pension Scheme members will continue to be processed and paid as before.
The scheme will close on 31 March 2022. HSC Pension Service, who administer the Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme on behalf of the Department of Health, will continue to accept and process applications for twelve months after the closing date of the scheme for eligible individuals who passed away before the closing date of the scheme.
WalesThe scheme manager may pay a single lump sum of £60,000 in respect of a qualifying death to the eligible individual’s personal representatives, where a claim is made before or on, the date six months after the scheme end date
The scheme closed on 30 June 2022. Claimants have until 30 June 2023 to submit claims for deaths that occurred while the scheme was open.
How would my surviving family apply for this?
Your family should make contact with your employer who will initiate the application, discuss claim forms and any necessary documentation checks. The coronavirus life assurance schemes are being administered by the relevant NHS Pension scheme administrators.
Will this lump sum payment be taxable?
No, but it may be counted as part of your estate for inheritance tax purposes. It will also be treated as capital for means tested welfare benefit payments from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (e.g. Universal Credit and tax credits).
Where can I find more information?
NHS and Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme (England)
NHS Scotland Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme
The Health and Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme 2020 (Northern Ireland)
NHS and Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme 2020 (Wales)
The RCN will provide support and assistance to the families of members who die due to COVID-19 to ensure that they receive the payments they are entitled to. Should they encounter any problems with the applications they should contact RCN Direct.
Last offices - care given after death
During the COVID-19 pandemic, care after death (last offices) including personal care, may be carried out by nursing staff who are not normally requested to complete this within their scope of practice. In some circumstances nursing staff may be redeployed into a role where this procedure is expected. Their line manager ultimately has responsibility to ensure the relevant support and competencies are in place and that staff members feel confident in carrying out last offices.
When undertaking care after death, the following considerations must be made:
- the principles of delivering dignified and compassionate care following death remain in place, including consideration of the individual’s spiritual and cultural beliefs
- last offices should be performed according to local policy
- in line with National Infection prevention and control guidance, PPE must be worn whilst performing last offices for individuals with either suspected or confirmed COVID-19
Registered Nurses who wish to undertake this extension of their role are required to understand the Special Edition of Care After Death: Registered Nurse Verification of Expected Adult Death (RNVoEAD) guidance (Hospice UK 2020) and undertake appropriate training in order to be deemed competent to verify an expected adult death. This session is designed to support this training by presenting a case study highlighting the process and responsibilities of an RN when verifying an expected adult death. The session is available via the e-lfh hub.
The Registered Nurse Verification of Expected Adult Death session will also be added to the eELCA learning path, Resources to support staff with difficult conversations and end of life care which was created to support staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. This learning is available on the e-lfh hub.
For information on face coverings, please see;
- England: Living safely with respiratory infections, including COVID-19
- Northern Ireland: Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings
- Scotland: Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings guidance
- Wales: The legal requirement for face coverings was removed on 30 May 2022. It is still strongly advised in health and social care settings.
For more information and resources for staff with ill health or disability issues - including to speak to other members with lived experience of disability at this time - visit our Peer Support Services pages.
If you are homeworking, see our information on COVID-19 and individual risk assessments.
You should follow your existing organisational policy and guidelines on reporting patient safety and clinical incidents. Your employer also has a responsibility to assess and manage risks to employees in relation to COVID-19 and our COVID-19 workplace risk assessment toolkit has more information on this.
See our PPE guidance and guidance on raising concerns for further information on escalating issues relating to PPE. We also have guidance on redeployment and staffing levels which includes how to raise concerns.
Reporting psychological harm
The RCN would also encourage members to report any work-related harm to their psychological health including work related stress and cases of violence, bullying and harassment or abuse. If these are due to unsustainable pressures in the working environment, please include this information in your report.
If you don’t feel able to complete an incident form or are worried about confidentially, log your concern in writing with your occupational health provider who can support you to make your manager aware of the problem.
You should never be discouraged or victimised from completing an incident form. If you are please see our bullying and harassment guide for more information.
If you have an RCN representative in your workplace let them know about any incidents or injuries at work, so that they can follow up with your employer and offer you any necessary support, especially if you are off work as a result of an incident or injury.
An incident form also provides a useful record should you go on to develop any health conditions as a result of any workplace incidents.
Find out more in our accidents and work and personal injury guide.
What happens if something goes wrong?
You might be concerned about what protections are in place if something goes wrong in the course of your work during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is where your professional indemnity becomes relevant.
The term ‘professional indemnity’ is sometimes used to describe two different types of cover: clinical negligence cover, and representation for workplace issues.
When we talk about indemnity, we’re referring to clinical negligence cover, i.e. the cover that pays out if a patient is harmed and makes a claim for compensation against a practitioner or health care provider.
Clinical negligence cover
Representation for workplace issues
Aside from indemnity cover for clinical negligence claims, you may also be concerned about support with workplace issues such as disciplinary action, inquests or NMC referrals. Unions like the RCN provide this to their members as a benefit of membership. Some Medical Defence Organisation cover includes this service as well.
National guidance can be found as below:
- England - The National infection prevention and control manual for England (July 2022) (NHS England) provides guidance on all aspects of infection prevention and control.
- Northern Ireland – The Northern Ireland Regional Infection Prevention and Control Manual and Infection Prevent and Control Measures for SARS-CoV-2 in Health and Care settings
- Scotland – National Infection Prevention and Control Manual
- Wales – Public Health Wales guidance and resources
You can also see our PPE guidance - Personal-protective-equipment-PPE-and-COVID-19.
Management of Clinical Waste
I can see clinical waste bags piling up awaiting collection - what do I do?
Waste is generated as a result of health and care practice/processes. There are clear responsibilities for both the ‘producer of the waste’ (the member) and the organisation responsible for the management of waste produced.
UK NHS guidance, Health technical Memorandum (HTM) 07-01 is the overarching guidance for health care organisations to manage waste. This document provides a framework for best practice waste management to enable healthcare organisations/other waste producers meet their legislative requirements and minimise waste production.
The term clinical waste is commonplace in all health care environments including community settings, and is defined within the Controlled Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2012 as waste from a health care activity that:
- contains viable micro-organisms or their toxins which are known or reliably believed to cause disease in humans or other living organisms,
- contains or is contaminated with a medicine that contains a biologically active pharmaceutical agent,
- is a sharp, or a body fluid or other biological material (including human and animal tissue) containing or contaminated with a dangerous substance (based on regulations for the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances) [summarised].
Waste generated as a result of providing care to suspected or confirmed patients with COVID-19 falls into the category of clinical waste (Category B waste) as defined by the COVID-19 waste management standard operating procedure. It is the responsibility of the person generating the waste (e.g. a nurse, HCSW, midwife) to categorise the waste correctly and place it in the correct waste receptacle (bin).
Who is responsible for the management of waste, specifically safe storage?
It is the responsibility of managers to ensure that health care waste is stored securely so as to prevent the escape of waste, harm to the environment and harm to human health. Failure to do so is a breach of the statutory duty of care. This applies to storage at the point of production and bulk storage areas whilst awaiting transport for onward disposal.
Where waste accumulates and is deemed excessive members should:
- refer to their local employer’s waste policy
- report the issue to their line manager or waste manager (if present)
- complete an incident report if the issue is unresolved.
Capacity for the management of clinical waste across the health and care system is limited at times due to the amount of waste generated as a result of the pandemic. The communication/feedback of issues relating to waste management/co-ordination can be found in the NHS COVID-19 waste management standard operating procedure (England).
Please see our guidance COVID-19 and vaccination.
During these challenging times, you may be finding it difficult to maintain your mental health and wellbeing when coping with so much uncertainty and turmoil at home and at work.
For tips and resources on self care and looking after your mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak, see COVID-19 and your mental wellbeing for more details.
If you need further emotional support, you can access the RCN Counselling service, who are operating as normal to support members during this time.
You may also find these resources helpful:
Where can I find information on pregnancy and the care of pregnant women?Please see our clinical advice under Pregnancy and fertility care.
I am returning to midwifery practice but I need to refresh my skills. What support is available?
Health Education England (HEE) has developed a module specially for returning midwives.
The RCN has also created a new Return to Practice (RTP) network to support nurses working in health and social care who are returning to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further information is also available from the NMC.
If you have more than one job and are being told that you cannot continue to work in all of your roles due to potential infection control risks, you need to first establish whether your employment contract or any local policy, related to second employment, allows you to hold more than one job. If you are permitted or the information is not clear, please contact us for further advice.
Following the government announcement on the ‘Living with Covid’ plan, the NMC announced that the temporary register would;
- close to new applicants on the 24 March 2022
- close fully in 2024.
For full details, please see the NMC’s website.
If you have been asked to witness a patient's will, please see the 'signing legal documents during the course of your employment' section of our advice for witnesses.
The RCN recognises that due to unsustainable pressures, these are unprecedented times. As a result, nursing support workers may be required to make adjustments to their normal day to day duties.
The principles of accountability and delegation can be applied to the nursing support workforce and this includes health care assistants, assistant practitioners, trainee nursing associates and nursing apprentices.
Health service providers have a duty to ensure that they meet their legal requirements to provide a safe working environment for nursing support workers to fulfil their delegated responsibilities.
Am I still accountable if a task has been delegated to me by a registered nurse (RN)?
Yes, providing you have agreed to accept it, verbally or by deed. The RN may be in overall charge of the nursing care, however, may need to appropriately delegate to others, according to delegation frameworks/guidance in the four nations.
If you are unable to carry out the delegated task inform the RN in order to protect yourself, your patients, the organisation and even the delegator. If you are still unsure, always seek further advice or clarification. It is advised that you may want to observe a task before asking to do it under supervision, to give you the necessary skills and knowledge you need.
It is important that you have an understanding of local policies and for you to keep your skills and competencies under constant review through regular meetings, debriefing sessions with your line manager and through clinical supervision.
Further resources to support practice are available here:
NIPEC Delegation Decision Framework
You are accountable if you accept the responsibility to perform a task. As a nursing support worker you need to be sure that you have the ability to competently perform tasks allocated to you and you are working within your scope of competency, which includes your job description and terms and conditions. You must inform a senior member of staff if you are unsure or you are being expected to work beyond your competence due to unsustainable pressures at work.
I am more involved in end of life care during the COVID-19 pandemic. What do I need to know?
Nursing support workers in all settings must be supported - which includes relevant and adequate training, guidance and support - in order to provide the best possible end of life care. Due to COVID-19 there will be an increase in numbers of people with palliative and end of life care needs. This will include those who have also become palliative during the pandemic and those who have been impacted by changes to the health and care services. The RCN has developed palliative and end of life care information to support all of its members.
Dignity, respect and compassion must remain at the core of the delivery of end of life care. As far as reasonably possible, people’s cultural, religious and spiritual beliefs should be explored and respected. However, as the pandemic increases this may not always be possible. You must inform your team leader or line manager if you do not have the relevant skills, education, competencies and resources to support end of life care.
Further resources to support practice are available here:
What if my employer asks me to move from my normal role?
Please see our guidance on redeployment for more information.
I'm working extra hours outside the NHS. What are my entitlements?
Overtime and TOIL arrangements should be detailed in your contract of employment and/or employer's policy. Please check with your employer for more information about how additional working hours will be allocated, recorded and recouped.
I’m working extra hours in the NHS. What are my entitlements?
Any change to your working patterns should be agreed with you, in accordance with your employer's policies and your contract of employment.
Overtime entitlements are set out in section 3 of the NHS terms and conditions of service handbook.
Systems should also be put in place to ensure that you can take TOIL as soon as possible after you accrue it. Where TOIL cannot be taken within 3 months, managers are responsible for ensuring payments are made, as set out in section 3.5 of the NHS terms and conditions of service handbook.
Please check your employer’s policy for more information about how additional working hours will be allocated, recorded and recouped.
Please see our guidance on PPE.
What if I’m pregnant?
The RCN expects employers and occupational health departments to carry out (or review) individual pregnancy risk assessments for all pregnant workers. The assessment should look at your role, your working conditions and the context of your health (including any underlying conditions). It must highlight any potential risks, including physical injury and exposure to harmful substances and take steps to remove the risk of harm occurring to you and your unborn child. The NHS has produced guidance on Pregnancy and coronavirus (COVID-19) which includes a section on pregnancy and risk. Our COVID-19 and individual risk assessments guidance includes a template letter to help you request a pregnancy risk assessment.
If the risk can't be removed, your employer should look at suitable alternative work, including home working, the use of a single office or redeployment in line with health and safety standards.
If suitable alternative work is not available then you should be suspended on full paid leave for as long as necessary to protect your health and safety, and/or that of your unborn child. Employers who do not undertake risk assessments or organise suitable alternatives may be breaching the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW).
If you have any concerns, discuss these with your line manager in the first instance. You may also wish to discuss the matter with your GP, midwife and Occupational Health department. It is important to contact us if you feel at risk.
The government guidance is available using the links below:
England: The Department of Health and Social Care and the UK Health Security Agency has issued Guidance for people previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19
Northern Ireland: Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for people at higher risk from COVID-19 – NI direct
Scotland: Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for people on the Highest Risk List – gov.scot
Wales: People at increased risk from coronavirus and Guidance on shielding and protecting people defined as extremely vulnerable from coronavirus – previously known as ‘shielding’
If you are pregnant and want to know more about the COVID-19 vaccine, please see our COVID-19 and vaccination FAQs and the UK government guidance COVID-19 vaccination: a guide on pregnancy and breastfeeding
For further clinical guidance on contraception, pregnancy, childbirth and midwifery, please see our clinical page.
Can I be made to start my maternity leave early?
If you’re being asked to take early maternity leave you should inform your employer that pregnant staff cannot be required to start maternity leave early. The only requirement to start maternity leave early is if a worker has a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks (Sunday to Saturday) before their baby is due.
If, following a health and safety risk assessment, the risks cannot be removed and your employer cannot offer you suitable alternative work, including moving to a different work area or working from home, you should be medically suspended on full pay. The statutory right to medical suspension pay applies to employees across the UK who have been in their job for one month and the right lasts for 26 weeks.
If you’re being forced to take early maternity leave notwithstanding the above, you should contact us.
What is the role of RCN safety representatives?RCN safety representatives should be kept informed of measures being taken to protect staff and there should be mechanisms in place that allow safety representatives to raise concerns with senior managers, health and safety, or infection control leads on behalf of staff.
Members who are concerned should speak to their local RCN safety representative and/or contact us.
Please see our guidance on redeployment.
What support will I have from the RCN?
Existing RCN members who are in the Retired category who joined the temporary register will receive full support and representation as retired members whilst they are on the temporary register.
Any non members who were retired (and didn’t have an active NMC PIN), who joined as a retired member (£10 per year or 84p per month), will receive full support and representation as retired members whilst they are on the temporary register.
The RCN believes if a member of health care staff contracts COVID-19 while working in clinical practice where they have been exposed to patients with COVID-19, employers should submit a RIDDOR report in line with HSE guidance.
Please see our guidance on skin health.
During the COVID-19 crisis nursing staff will turn, like everyone else, to online communication to keep in touch and to connect with their communities.
Quite rightly, there is unprecedented interest in the experiences of nursing staff on the front line of the pandemic and concern for their welfare. Importantly, nursing staff have raised issues like lack of PPE and testing that influence government policy. They must continue to speak up.
Some members have reported pressure from their employer not to mention difficulties. Whilst sympathising with the challenges faced by employers, they must continue to draw attention to their own concerns. Nursing staff are in a unique position to provide the evidence that will lead to improvement.
The purpose of this guidance is to encourage you to keep pressing for safety improvements, but to do so in ways that will not risk damage to your career. Some disputes with employers and referrals to the NMC have arisen from the use of social media during the emergency. We want to alert you to potential problems, so that they can be avoided.
Using social media safely
The NMC Code has a section specifically devoted to the use of social media, as follows:
“Use all forms of spoken, written and digital communication (including social media and networking sites) responsibly.” (The Code, paragraph 20.10)
The NMC has also produced a useful guide that sets out uses of social media that might breach sections of the Code.
Recently, the NMC has received some referrals to their Fitness to Practise Directorate involving the use of social media. These include posting misinformation about the virus, promoting sales of dubious products, inappropriate information about an employer or inappropriate comments about individuals. Hopefully, these cases will be resolved without long term difficulty, but registered nurses must remain aware that they are exposed to more scrutiny than the general public. Anything posted can end up in a public place, even if originally covered by privacy settings.
Those working in unregistered positions can be disciplined by an employer for unprofessional social media use.
How to raise concerns safely
The RCN guidance on raising concerns will lead you step by step through the process.
Social media attacks
A few members have become the victims of trolling online. If this happens to you, you can escalate the matter to your manager and your HR department may become involved. They could even involve the police. The RCN advises members to not engage with trolls and to seek RCN support.
And remember, the RCN is here to support you. We are actively challenging local and UK-wide issues on your behalf. Come to us first by speaking to your RCN advisers or your local rep. Please visit our Get help pages or contact us.
Please see our COVID-19 and staffing levels advice for more information.
The Department of Health and Social Care have recently confirmed:
• Routine asymptomatic testing will be paused across remaining settings, including hospitals and care homes, from 31 August as Covid cases continue to fall.
• Testing for individuals with symptoms in these settings, including health and social care staff, will continue.
• Immunocompromised patients in hospitals and people being admitted into care homes and hospices will also continue to be tested.
Symptomatic testing will continue for both patients and staff, based on the current list of COVID-19 symptoms for more information please see NHS England guidance.
The RCN believes that pausing asymptomatic testing for nursing staff is premature. Although cases of COVID-19 are falling, the virus has still not gone away, and it is vital that there is continued vigilance to ensure patients and nursing staff are not put at risk. Nursing staff must continue to have access to free testing and high-quality personal protective equipment. Risk assessments, in line with health and safety legislation, should be undertaken by all healthcare staff. Asymptomatic testing is a preventative measure to identify where health and social care staff may unknowingly be covid positive and testing allows measures to be taken to protect patients and colleagues. The RCN believes we must not risk any backwards step when health services are already under enormous pressure.
Precautionary regular testing of health and care staff
The RCN is urging employers to ensure that testing is carried out in working hours at a convenient location, if this cannot be undertaken at home. There should also be no detriment suffered by staff in the event of a positive test. Where that’s not possible, a conversation needs to take place with the employer.
The testing frequency for this precautionary approach varies currently across the UK, however additional testing can be undertaken if a health care worker develops symptoms of COVID-19 or, requires testing for any other reason. Lateral flow devices are used as the primary testing method, with confirmatory PCR tests undertaken if a positive lateral flow test occurs or for other reasons, as indicated in national guidance.
Does the RCN support the temporary changes on confirmatory PCR's after positive lateral flow test?
The RCN considers PCR tests as the gold standard for confirmation of COVID-19 infection. Although lateral flow tests (LFTs) provide a relatively quick and convenient test, PCR tests are more accurate and allow additional genetic analysis of the virus present in positive tests for potential new variants to be identified. In health and care settings the use of PCR tests can also support investigation of clusters and outbreaks of infection which is not possible with LFTs. The RCN wants PCR testing to remain available in health and care settings, for staff and patients/clients, to ensure safe care and working environments.
Please see our COVID-19 and vaccination advice guide.
RCN members who wish to support the delivery of care and treatment to patients and the public during the pandemic can do so in a range of ways, including:
- redeploying to a different clinical setting
- returning to clinical practice
Our guidance on redeployment will help you if you're changing or taking on a new role.
- COVID-19 FAQs
- COVID-19 and vaccination
- COVID-19 and staffing levels
- Long COVID
- Employment guidance for NHS staff
- Individual risk assessments
- Nursing students & trainee nursing associates advice
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) advice
- Redeployment guidance
- Managing COVID-19
- COVID-19 vaccination
- Prescribing safely under COVID-19
- DNACPR & verification of death
- Mental health care delivery
- COVID-19 inquiry
- Our COVID-19 position statements
- Open letters
- Media statements
- Campaigning during COVID-19
Page last updated - 14/11/2023