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The Treasury has pledged to take steps to clear up confusion over pay entitlements for nurses employed in the independent sector who are too vulnerable to work during the coronavirus crisis.
It comes after the Royal College of Nursing wrote to the chancellor to ask for “urgent” clarification over what financial support was available for non-NHS nurses who were required to “shield” at home for three months due to underlying health conditions.
“When the guidance isn’t clear, it is hard-working nursing staff who suffer”
While an agreement has been reached for NHS staff who need to shield or self-isolate to get full pay while off work, the same promise has not been secured for those in care homes and other settings in the independent sector.
The college claimed that “contradictory guidance” had recently been issued that made it unclear whether nursing staff in this situation were entitled to government furlough money, or statutory sick pay (SSP).
Nurses on SSP would earn around £95 per week, whereas those on furlough via the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) would get 80% of their wages with the possibility of employers paying the remaining 20%.
The RCN said it feared nursing staff across the independent sector, including those normally in care homes, could put their lives at risk and return to work to avoid financial difficulties if they could only receive SSP.
The college said it had received feedback from employers and staff on the ground that showed widespread uncertainty over the pay entitlements.
While the RCN ultimately wanted all nursing staff to get full pay if they have to take time off due to Covid-19, the college said at the very least the guidance being issued must be clear.
Theresa Fyffe, RCN executive team lead for the independent sector, said: “The chancellor must clarify that the furlough scheme extends to care home workers who are shielding.
“When the guidance isn’t clear, it is hard-working nursing staff who suffer,” she said.
“We are working with the RCN to clarify this and resolve this misunderstanding”
“We expect all health and care employers to provide full pay for staff who have to be off work due to Covid-19 sickness, self-isolation or shielding.”
A Treasury spokesperson said it would work with the RCN to “resolve the misunderstanding”.
They clarified that the rules did not prevent anyone being furloughed if they were liable for SPP, including if they were following measures in line with government guidance.
Any organisation not publicly funded could claim both furlough and SPP in respect for the same employee but not for the same period.
The spokesperson said: “We are extremely grateful, as is the whole country, for all the work nurses, carers and frontline health staff are doing to fight coronavirus, and recognise the challenges this can pose, especially for those who are already vulnerable.
“Care homes, social care providers and other independent employers that are not publicly funded are of course able to furlough nursing staff required to shield under the CJRS, and this has always been the case.
“We are working with the Royal College of Nursing to clarify this and resolve this misunderstanding,” they added.