Coronavirus: Vulnerable Workers – No Change to DWP Policy

03 Apr 2020

Over the past few days PCS has received a number of complaints from members regarding a perceived change to the earlier advice issued by DWP regarding vulnerable workers and their need to remain away from the office.

It became clear that a number of managers, across different areas of the department, had confused recent changes in advice given by the NHS and Asthma UK, with the DWP policy on vulnerable and extremely vulnerable workers.

We immediately raised the issue with DWP and are pleased to say they have confirmed the advice issued by both of these organisations DOES NOT REPLACE the existing DWP policy or instruction regarding vulnerable or extremely vulnerable workers.

As a reminder the DWP policy states:

"We are advising those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures. There are two defined groups for medical purposes: vulnerable and extremely vulnerable

This group includes those who are:

  • aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
  • under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
  • chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
  • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
  • chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS),a learning disability or cerebral palsy
  • diabetes
  • problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
  • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
  • being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
  • those who are pregnant

The extremely vulnerable group is different from the vulnerable group only in that extremely vulnerable people will be sent a letter by the NHS with advice.  People falling into this extremely vulnerable group include:

  1. Solid organ transplant recipients.
  2. People with specific cancers:
    • people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy
    • people with lung cancer who are undergoing radical radiotherapy
    • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
    • people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
    • people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
    • people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  3. People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD.
  4. People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell).
  5. People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
  6. Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired."

Vulnerable and extremely colleagues

PCS has had to again raise a number of examples where managers had sought to re-interpret the lists, or sub-categorise the conditions of individual members of staff based on these outside organisations guidance.

DWP have been quick to act and have made clear that there is no change to policy.

Advice for members

The DWP policy for the handling of Coronavirus makes clear that staff who fall within the above definition of vulnerable or extremely vulnerable, e.g. due to their age, pregnancy or certain underlying health conditions, must:

(a) inform their manager and,

(b) not attend the office

The policy confirms staff "do not have to disclose the nature of their illness to their manager, if they do not wish to, but they are expected to reveal the fact they are in the vulnerable category."

Any DWP employee who fits in to the above category of workers must not attend their office under any circumstances and managers do not have discretion to grant or create exceptions.

If vulnerable or extremely vulnerable colleagues were previously granted exceptional permission to attend the office, or they were requested to attend by their manager, they must go home immediately and not return until further notice.

Guidance for working from home should still be followed, if you are able to, but you should be granted paid special leave until further notice if homeworking is not available to you.

Line managers are expected to advise vulnerable colleagues to follow the NHS guidance on Staying at Home (vulnerable person section) and on Social Distancing,  as per DWP policy.

PCS advice and support

PCS welcomes the clarity offered regarding existing advice and guidance, and will continue to raise examples that undermine this policy.

If any member has any concerns or is felt pressured in to ignoring this policy, you should contact your local PCS representative for support in the first instance or alternatively raise the matter with group office via leeds@pcs.org.uk.

We will continue to update our advice and guidance to members as quickly as possible in light of developments, and continue to highlight the very serious concerns raised by members who live with someone who meets the criteria of being vulnerable.

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