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Please bring the contents of this circular to the attention of all POA members.
Priority Vaccination Status
The General Secretary and I met with the Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland MP QC and Prisons Minister Lucy Frazer MP to discuss a variety of issues including the priority vaccination within our prisons. We asked for both to support our call for prisons to be prioritised for the vaccination in phase 2 of the roll out.
Both were very supportive, and Mr Buckland assured us that both him and the Prisons Minister are “making the case daily” and it’s a “no brainer that Prison Officers should be in the second phase.” Mr Buckland confirmed that he prefers a whole prison approach but if this was not possible then “the staff come first.”
This was a very positive meeting, and it is welcome that POA members and all those who work in our Prisons are receiving the full support of our Secretary of State and Prisons Minister.
The ultimate decision on priority groups in phase 2 of the vaccination roll out rests with the Prime Minister. Once this is publicised the membership will be updated.
Please gain support from your local MP.
Lateral Flow Testing of Prison Staff
We have agreed that a voluntary testing programme for staff should commence which will introduce lateral flow testing into our prisons. 400,000 tests have been procured and will be arriving at establishments from next Monday.
PHE Health & Justice strongly advocate that testing with Lateral Flow Devices (LFD) should be used in custodial settings to allow the rapid detection of infectious staff and implementation of appropriate infection prevention control measures.
Following the recent Government announcement regarding access to Lateral Flow Device testing for keyworkers attending the workplace, HMPPS have approval to supplement the existing weekly PCR testing of all staff in prisons with twice-weekly LFD testing.
The introduction of LFD testing is in addition to the existing PCR testing and it is important that staff take both types of test to provide the best chance of identifying the virus.
Within the next week LFD test kits will be delivered to all prisons in preparation for the implementation of this testing. However, staff training is required before testing can begin.
Unlike PCR tests which are sent to labs for processing, LFD test samples are processed on site and will provide a result within 30 minutes of the swab being taken.
Covid Positive Prisoners Regimes
Many branch officials have expressed their concerns that Prison Managers are insisting that Covid Positive prisoners are afforded a regime which includes daily showers and exercise. Although in some prisons this may be feasible in many establishments this is causing concern for staff. The latest Public Health England advice confirms that Covid positive cases are less of a risk to staff and other prisoners on day 9 of their self-isolation onwards and under no circumstances should positive prisoners be escorted through crowds of prisoners when accessing a regime. They should also be mandated to wear a fluid resistant surgical mask when unlocked.
The NEC are currently working with HMPPS to publish specific guidance surrounding this issue but until this has been agreed all committees should take note of the following:
PSI 75/2011 Residential Services and Prison Rule 28 (2) which states that every prisoner must consistently receive:
Local committees are encouraged to review their risk assessments and consider the following when being asked to facilitate regimes for Covid positive prisoners:
Local committees are reminded that all up to date Safe Operating Procedures (SOPS) can be found on the Covid section of the HMPPS intranet. These are updated in line with PHE Advice which may change daily.
If any local committees are in dispute about regime delivery for Covid positive prisoners or have concerns about the level of PPE they are being issued, they should immediately contact their area NEC Representative who will escalate their concerns and assist in reaching agreement.
Track and Trace
Concerns have been expressed by members in relation to the HMPPS track and trace initiative. The NEC are addressing these concerns with the employer. Members should be aware that the HMPPS track and trace system will soon be linked to the national track and trace system which should alleviate some issues. If members receive communication from NHS track and trace informing them, they must self-isolate then there is a legal requirement to do so. Any issues experienced at work should be escalated to your local POA committee who can seek guidance from their area NEC representative.
Pay Review Body
We are about to submit written evidence to the Pay Review Body in relation to next years pay award. As this issue progresses the membership will be kept updated.
Level 4 Regimes
It has been brought to our attention that many branches are being forced to enhance their regimes during this level 4 lockdown, with some branches reporting that their Governors are refusing to adhere to their agreed Emergency Regime Management Plan that came into force in March/April 2020. The risk posed by Covid cannot be underestimated and branches are therefore encouraged to ensure that prisoner unlock numbers and activities revert to their previous level 4 lockdown levels as agreed in their ERMP. If any branch is experiencing difficulties due to the reluctance of Senior Managers to adhere to previously agreed procedures, they should contact their area NEC Representative for support and advice.
Absence due to Covid
Many branches are reporting that staff are being penalised for being absent from work due to a period of Covid related illness. It has been reported that some Governors are approving special leave with pay for the 10-day self-isolation period, but any prolonged absence will be subject to attendance management procedures and recorded as non Covid related sick absence. This could obviously affect trigger points and could affect pay. If any member has been subject to this, they should immediately submit a grievance and get the support of their local POA committee.
HMPPS have confirmed the following will apply:
“Our policy is to exclude Covid sick absence from attendance monitoring and also that if staff have to self-isolate on more than one occasion there will not be disciplinary consequences. We intend to reiterate this in a forthcoming briefing”.
The Government have rebutted our legal argument that the rejection of pay recommendation 3 is not justified. We are therefore continuing to challenge the Government in Court and have launched a Judicial Review. Members should note that this will be a lengthy and costly process and we will keep you updated throughout.
Personal Protective Equipment
Many members have expressed concerns surrounding the effectiveness of the Personal Protective Equipment they are being issued. Some healthcare professionals in prisons are telling staff that a Fluid Resistant Surgical Mask will not protect them from the new strain of Covid. This is unhelpful. We have tackled the Public Health authorities over this issue and can confirm their response:
We are currently using the FRSM standard as is the NHS (other than in AGP tasks). This is a Fluid Resistant Surgical Mask (IIR). HMPPS stock of this comes directly to us and the NHS from the DHSC procurement supply.
To date, there has not been any official or recognised UK/World Body that has proposed the FRSM isn’t a specification for the new COVID-19 strain (WHO/SAGE/NERTAG/GOV.UK/PH/DHSC – IPC)
Members should note that on hospital escorts battery powered respirators should be carried in case they encounter Aerosol Generating Procedures, therefore, staff who go out on hospital escorts or staff bed guards should be trained in battery powered respirator use.
Many branches are reporting that their SMT’s are insisting that C&R training should be facilitated during this lockdown period. Members have quite rightly highlighted their concerns about close bodily contact in a confined space whilst wearing PPE that quite often gets dislodged. Local committees should ensure that if this type of training is to be facilitated, they are in agreement and the practice can be facilitated in a Covid safe manner. Any disagreements over this issue should be escalated to your area NEC Representative.
YCS sites should note that for the duration of the national lockdown it has been agreed that all MMPR training is suspended.
Staff fitness tests continue to be suspended and there is no clear date as yet for the resumption of fitness tests.
Tornado trained staff have been given a 2-year dispensation but must be in date on basic C&R to access a refresher Advanced course.
The NEC continue to work positively with HMPPS to address your concerns. It would be helpful if local committees could regularly update their Area NEC representative so we may be confident that all the concerns of POA members are being addressed.
It is recognised that staff are becoming ‘burnt out’ due to the pressures placed upon them. Please ensure you continue to support each other and access both the POA and HMPPS support services should you need to ‘offload.’
Your continued efforts on the frontline are recognised and appreciated. You are a credit to the service and the POA.
Look after yourselves.
Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.