Alliance criticises conflicting self-isolation advice being given to early years settings
Leading early years organisation the Early Years Alliance has warned that the government risks ‘jeopardising the health’ of those working in the early years as it emerged that the Department for Education and Public Health England have been giving conflicting advice to early years professionals on whether close contacts of positive coronavirus cases can return to settings.
The Alliance has received a number of reports of owners of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders who identified a positive case at their setting, and contacted the DfE helpline to ask for advice, were informed that children and staff who were close contacts of a positive case could return to the setting immediately, so long as they were willing to take a lateral flow test on site for 7 consecutive days, and produced a negative result each day.
However, those who spoke to Public Health England were told in no uncertain terms “that there is no guidance/policy to allow for contacts of a positive case to return to the setting with the condition of undertaking LFD tests”. They were also advised that “the Children Young People Schools and Universities Team within PHE will follow up with DfE partners to ensure that incorrect information is not issued again”.
Along with the apparently incorrect advice, those who had contacted the DfE were also provided with template letters to send to parents and carers, which read:
“We have followed the national guidance and, following a risk assessment with Public Health England (PHE) advisers, have identified that your child (name) has been in close contact with the individual who has had a positive test result for coronavirus (COVID-19). In line with the national guidance, your child must stay at home and self-isolates until ADD DATE (10 days after contact) or alternatively your child can continue to attend school but must test negative every day using a Lateral Flow Test taken at the school for 7 days.”
The same letter provided a link to the Guidance for contacts of people with confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection who do not live with the person on Gov.uk, which makes no reference to lateral flow testing, but instead confirms that anyone receiving a negative PCR test should continue to isolate for the full 10 days, looking out for possible coronavirus symptoms."
Commenting, Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief executive, said:
“If lateral flow testing is not a sufficient precaution to allow practitioners and children to return to settings safely, it is unforgivable that the DfE has been suggesting they may do so. The government has repeatedly failed to offer clear and up to date evidence that it is safe for early years settings to remain open during this latest lockdown – and has failed to include the early years settings in either mass testing, or priority vaccination plans. It now appears to be further jeopardising their safety by offering incorrect public health advice.”
“The Department for Education must urgently explain why its helpline is contradicting PHE and begin to repair trust with providers by being fully transparent about both its advice to the sector, and the evidence that it is safe for early years settings to continue operating.
“Practitioners are already at their wits’ end trying to keep up with constantly shifting government guidance, which they are frequently given just hours to implement. They are deeply anxious for the safety of their staff, their own households and the children and parents that rely on them. If the government cannot even agree on what the guidance is, it makes the task of running an early years setting during this pandemic nigh on impossible.”
Bruce Warnes, Director, Sunflowers Day Nursery, North Yorkshire, said:
“Incorrect and potentially dangerous information is still being given to early years settings by the DfE. This beggars belief at a time when our sector is struggling to support families and keep children and staff safe with scant support from government. The very least we should expect is clear and correct health advice."