COVID-19 and the Peer Support Service

Information and resources for healthcare professionals who are disabled during the COVID-19 outbreak

The RCN understands that if you are a healthcare professional with an impairment, if you are Neurodiverse and/or if you consider yourself to be disabled that you face additional challenges both in and out of work.

Our Peer Support Service enables members to network to share lived experience of disability and uses that experience to inform policies and guidance. The service supports members at all stages of their careers including students and those who are not currently employed or who have retired. 

As the COVID-19 outbreak progresses you can find RCN position statements and guidance pertaining to COVID-19 and disability here, as well as links to other services and resources that may be useful.

Reasonable adjustments

The legislation that protects disabled workers from discrimination (The Equality Act 2010, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 Northern Ireland) continues to apply during the COVID-19 outbreak. Furthermore, allowing all staff to access reasonable adjustments at work (whether they meet the legal definition of "disabled" or not) brings many benefits.

If you are a healthcare professional who has (or needs) adjustments at work, or on student placement, then you are still entitled to these during the COVID-19 outbreak, including when you are redeployed. You should not face negative treatment because of your disability/impairment/health issue. 

If you are a line manager or employer of healthcare professionals with impairments then remember the advantages that a diverse workforce with the skills and equipment needed to thrive in their roles bring to their teams and to patients. 

The RCN Peer Support Service's guides on Disability Passports and Removing Disabling Barriers at Work look further at the advantages of a diverse nursing workforce.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced advice for employers during COVID-19.

There are links to RCN guidance that refers to disability issues and COVID-19 below or you can view all of our guidance here.

RCN Members can access support and advice on employment issues including discrimination by contacting RCN Direct

What if I have an underlying health condition and have concerns about exposure?

Social distancing

Government guidance lists people who may be more vulnerable to or have a higher risk of complications and higher mortality than the general population.  

The guidelines advise that these individuals should practice social distancing. This means that they should avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus. Also avoid non-essential use of public transport, varying your travel times to avoid rush hour, when possible and work from home where possible.  

If you meet the definition of vulnerable as set out in government advice, and during the course of your work, you are likely to come into contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19, you should inform your line manager immediately.

The RCN would expect employers and occupational health lead to carry out a health and safety risk assessment and put systems in place to minimise the risk of harm and allow the health care worker to work safely. The employer also has a duty to make reasonable adjustments where the staff member has identified themselves as disabled.   

Organisations such as Diabetes UK provide additional advice on working with long term conditions.   

Please also see our guidance on redeployment.

Shielding

Government guidance also lists people who are extremely vulnerable and so at very high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. People in this group need to ‘shield’ themselves for at least 12 weeks.

Asthma

Members have raised concerns that there is conflicting advice regarding whether they should be following shielding recommendations for those classified as very vulnerable due to a diagnosis of asthma. This is particular concern relating to differing advice from Asthma UK, the Government and individual GPs. 

The government has provided clear advice on social distancing. If you have not been contacted, you should follow the social distancing rules for everyone. If you later receive a letter asking you to shield, you should do so. Otherwise, you should follow the social distancing rules.

The RCN recognises that members with a diagnosed long-term condition may lead to concerns as to whether it is safe to continue direct patient contact during the COVID-19 crisis. Individuals with asthma and other long-term conditions have a spectrum of severity that will need to be taken into account. 

If you have received a letter from your clinician stating that you have been identified as very vulnerable you should; inform your employer, follow the shielding guidance and stay at home. You should continue to discuss the situation with your GP and Occupational Health services for any ongoing risk assessment.

There may be opportunities to work remotely depending on their role/ employer.

If a family member who lives with a member receives a shielding letter further please see the sections on shielding and alternative accommodation. 

Speaking to your employer

You should escalate your concerns to your line manager in the first instance, having checked your employer’s COVID-19 response policy. The RCN has advice on how staff can approach raising concerns should your manager be unsupportive. 

Further guidance for employees and employers is also available.

Please call RCN Direct on 0345 7726100 if you cannot resolve your concerns with your employer.

Will I be paid when self-isolating?

If you are working for an NHS organisation or an organisation commissioned to provide NHS services, you will be entitled to special leave on full pay when self-isolating in line with the official stay at home guidance.

This means you should be paid what you would have otherwise earned if you were not in isolation, including any pay enhancements, such as overtime.

We expect independent employers to also pay their staff normal pay.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is a temporary government scheme to support employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus (COVID-19). The government expects that the scheme will not be used by many public sector organisations, as most should continue to provide essential public services. This means the scheme may not be relevant to members working in the NHS, but some members working for independent employers or those working via an employment agency may benefit from the scheme.

The scheme allows employers to ‘furlough’ employees (place them on a leave of absence) and then claim for 80% of the employees’ usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage. Employers can use this scheme any point from 1st March 2020 until the government closes the scheme.

How do I apply for the scheme?

Employees and workers do not have an automatic right to be furloughed. It is a decision for employers and agencies to take whether to furlough staff based on the needs of their business. In order to be eligible for the scheme you need to have been officially on your employer’s payroll before 19 March 2020. If your employment began in February or March 2020 you may need to check whether you were added to the payroll system in time to be eligible. If you have been on your employer’s payroll long enough to be eligible, you and your employer need to agree in writing that you will be furloughed and will not undertake any work for your employer during this time (an email exchange may be enough to count as this written agreement).

If you think you would benefit from being furloughed then in the first instance you should speak to your manager about the scheme, details of which can be found on the government website.

Can I ask to be furloughed if I need to shield?

If you are shielding in line with public health guidance or required to stay home due to an individual in your household shielding, and you cannot work from home, then your employer should risk assess you and may choose to medically suspend you on full pay where necessary. If your employer is not willing to pay you in full while you are shielding, for example because you work via an employment agency, then you may wish to ask them to consider furloughing you instead so you can still receive 80% of your usual pay. It remains your employer’s decision whether to furlough you through this scheme.

If you need to shield and your employer is not willing to medically suspend you or to furlough you then you need to raise the issue with your employer and ask for their reason for this in writing. This should be done before contacting the RCN for further advice. If you have your employer’s written response but you haven’t been able to resolve the issue, you should raise your concerns with your local RCN representative directly or by contacting RCN Direct on 0345 772 6100.

Redeployment of disabled staff – 25th March 2020

Governments from across the UK have published guidance for the NHS on staff health, safety and well-being issues, including for people who are most vulnerable which can be found here. The RCN fully expects that employers and managers will adhere to this.

We fully expect that managers to be aware of and complying with the guidance and that there should be clear guidance on the redeployment of staff with disabilities across the health sector. There must also be systems in place to provide support to staff when making a decision on redeployment (e.g. occupational health services) and staff should be supported to raise concerns when appropriate and these concerns should be given priority.

Our members who identify themselves as disabled provide a vital contribution to the nursing workforce, and must be properly supported during the emergency period. In the current circumstances, individual members may be asked to move to a different clinical setting. It would not be acceptable for this redeployment to put their health and wellbeing at risk.

We continue to provide advice to our members with individuals issues through RCN officers, including the Peer Support Officer. If anyone is concerned they should contact RCN Direct.

coronavirus

COVID-19 and your mental health

Advice and resources on how to look after your mental wellbeing during the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, with tips for self care.

COVID-19 resources for further support

a growing list of online resources to support you during the outbreak.

COVID-19 resources for members

COVID-19 resources, including FAQs, work related advice, redeployment advice, and more.

Removing Disabling Barriers at Work

Click to read our new guidance, based on the lived experience of our members. 

peer.support@rcn.org.uk

If you can't find an answer to your disability related query in our existing resources, or have suggestions for additional resources at this time, please email us.
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