22 April 2022

Step-down of physical distancing measures announced for healthcare settings in England

Updated infection prevention and control guidance and manual have been published by the UK Health Security Agency for England.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has published updated infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance, and a National Infection Prevention and Control Manual (NIPCM) for England.

The IPC guidance applies across the UK to help prevent transmission of seasonal respiratory viral infections (such as SARS-CoV-2 responsible for COVID-19) in health and care settings, and remains largely unchanged with respect to the recommendations for primary care:

  • Screening for COVID-19 symptoms should continue, including triaging of those with suspected or confirmed respiratory infections to the appropriate care pathway
  • Universal face masking for staff, patients and visitors. Staff should wear a fluid resistant (Type IIR) surgical mask. Patients and visitors should wear face covering where they are able to.

The NIPCM for England outlines the standard infection control precautions (SICPs) required to ensure a safe care environment at all times, and transmission based precautions (TBPs) when providing care for those with suspected or confirmed infections. This is consistent with and should be read alongside our Guidance for Professional Practice infection control recommendations and supplementary guidance for managing patients with symptoms of respiratory infection.

Optical practices in England are no longer required to maintain a minimum of 1m distance

However, in a letter published on 14 April, NHS England has recommended that all healthcare settings can now safely return to pre-pandemic physical distancing. This means optical practices in England are no longer required to maintain a minimum of 1m distance, but should comply with all relevant Health Technical Memoranda and Health Building Notes to ensure safe levels of occupancy within the practice. We have updated our COVID-19 Amber phase guidance to reflect the changes to physical distancing recommendations across the UK.

This article was correct at time of publication. 

Related further reading

AI is pushing the boundaries of diagnosis, but are we on the verge of an antimicrobial dark age?

AI can give optometrists a head start in eye disease detection.

Kathy Oxtoby asks what optometrists need to know about antimicrobial resistance.