Please bring the contents of this circular to the attention of all POA members

21.02.22 “Living with COVID” Announcement - impact in Prisons

POA members should be aware of the following that has been issued by HMPPS after the recent Government announcement:

A number of legal restrictions in England will be lifted from 24th February with further changes both later in March and from 1st April. An announcement for Wales is expected in early March. Establishments must continue to operate COVID-19 controls in line with their relevant regime stage and as per HMPPS SOPs and operational guidance.

In line with UKHSA advice, there will be no immediate changes to the current isolation guidance in prisons and the existing approach will remain in place for the safety of prisoners, and staff.

Staff will continue to follow guidance from their HRL and line manager and will be advised to not attend work if they have symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19. Staff who are contacts of positive cases will continue to be offered the relevant HMPPS return to work testing program, and can refer to the latest UKHSA advised guidance for isolation and testing.

Testing will continue to offer a key control to the safety of prisons. Current testing capacity for prisons will continue until at least the end of March, and will apply to both, prisoners and the staff group.

Pay Submissions

The POA have delivered their pay submissions on time. Our pay submissions can be viewed on the POA website.

HMPPS submissions can be viewed via the following link:

Although it is anticipated that the Pay Review Body will submit their recommendations to the Government on time it is highly unlikely the Government will enact any recommendations in time for an April pay award. It is difficult to predict when any potential pay award will be approved, but it will once again be delayed.

Pension changes

Members are reminded that staff not currently members of the Alpha pension scheme within the civil service pension scheme arrangements will automatically revert to Alpha on 1st April 2022 as per McCloud case remedy. Any member who is contemplating Ill Health Retirement (IHR) and wishes to be assessed on their legacy pension scheme (Classic, Classic Plus, Premium or Nuvos) must have started the IHR application process before 31st March 2022. Applications after this date will be assessed on Alpha scheme criteria.

Mental Health in Prisons

BBC Radio 4's current affairs documentary series 'File on 4' is making a 40-minute programme to be broadcast on the 15th March about mental illness in prisons and the problems transferring prisoners to hospitals in the community. 

They are trying to establish the extent of mental illness in prison, how many prisoners need hospitalisation, levels of training and your personal experiences as a POA member.

They have asked for your participation via a survey which will take a few minutes as there are only five questions, the first four questions are for members who work in prisons and one question for our members who work in the high secure psychiatric hospitals/secure psychiatric units in the community. 

The data collected is anonymous and they will only use the results to inform BBC coverage of this issue. No names or information about individual survey participants will be published without their explicit consent.

Please find the link below.
We would ask all POA members to complete the survey by 2nd March 2022.

Providing Evidence of a Positive Covid Test Result

Members should be aware that HMPPS has issued guidance to managers that stipulates that they may ask for proof that staff have tested positive for Covid if there are instances where the validity of a positive test result is brought into question and information suggests that the reporting of a test result may be false e.g., where a member of staff has reported multiple positive test results within an unrealistic period of time.”

Secure Hospitals

POA colleagues in the secure hospital’s estate are reporting an improved landscape with dwindling outbreaks of covid amongst patients and staff. Their main issues surround excessive numbers of staff absent due to long covid and the difficulty in recruiting sufficient new staff to boost staffing levels.

NHS pay negotiations in Scotland are due to commence whilst in England and Wales the recognised unions will ask for a significant pay rise that goes above the rate of inflation.

Daily Covid testing

Mandatory daily testing continues to be reviewed fortnightly. Staff will be reminded by the employer that:

The requirement for daily LFD testing remains an essential control in our continued measures to reduce transmission and contain and reduce our current prison outbreaks.

During this period of daily testing, staff have a choice to either:

  • test at home, using Self Collect, prior to attending work, or
  • attend the prison to take a test prior to commencing work, where possible, or as early in the shift as possible

POA members are reminded that they cannot be forced to take a test any earlier than their official shift start time and are within their rights to attend the gate at their official start time. 

Prioritising the protection of pregnant and vulnerable workers from strains of COVID-19

POA members are reminded of the following obligations that HMPPS has towards them in the workplace:

Whilst there is no official shielding in the community, we remain committed to supporting and protecting our most vulnerable workers (e.g. formerly shielding) during COVID-19 pandemic. This briefing reminds of additional safeguards and protective measures that should be in place to ensure pregnant and vulnerable workers are supported and protected.

Managers are therefore required (Health & Safety duty of care) to complete individual risk assessments for every pregnant employee and vulnerable staff members. This risk assessment will consider whether any suitable alternative working arrangement should be put in place to support pregnant individuals and vulnerable staff. This may include obtaining advice from the occupational health department, workplace adjustment team and/or health and safety colleagues. You should put monitoring and supervision in place to make sure the controls you have are working as expected.

Long COVID (also known as Post Covid Syndrome)

Any POA member who is suffering from Long Covid should be aware that the following support is available from HMPPS via the Functional Restoration Programme:

What is the Functional Restoration Programme (FRP) for Long Covid syndrome?

The FRP is an 8-week/8 session process delivered by our OH provider which starts with a group session (introduction) followed by one to one sessions. It may take additional weeks in terms of planning return if the programme has been successful in assisting to remove barriers to return

  • An assessment is made of the obstacles preventing the individual’s recovery, including the impact of their current work.
  • The programme is delivered remotely via telephone or MS Teams.
  • An initial report to manager is followed by a discharge report with phased return to work plan. Occasionally there is an interim report depending on the circumstances.
  • There is currently a high success rate of returning employee back to work.
  • The programme also provides feedback if the employee has not progressed as expected.

Any members who feel this may benefit them should make enquiries with their line manager.

Regime Progression to Stage 1 in Prisons

POA members should be aware of the latest announcement from HMPPS which includes the following:

  • Ministers have agreed that the timing is right to open the Stage 1 Gateway for all sites as of 25.02.22. This decision is relevant to all prisons in England and Wales, including the youth secure estate.
  • At present, mandatory daily testing remains in place for all establishments, however work is being completed with UKHSA on the short and medium – term approach to testing.
  • Stage 1 removes the routine requirement and expectation for social distancing, and SOP mandation for face masks in all but specific instances.
  • Progression is possible directly from Stage 3 to Stage 1.
  • As part of their progression to Stage 1 prisons and local health partners, Trade Union officials and other stakeholders should either work collaboratively to develop a local ‘Stage 1 day 1’ regime model around the new level of controls, and a Regime Summary agreed with PGD, or to ensure their previous regime model for Stage 1 remains up to date and remains agreed by local Trade Unions.
  • Prisons must either review an existing or complete a new RMP as part of their progression to Stage 1. Once reviewed, the RMP must be robust, completed and in place, used to support delivery of Stage 1. They should be bolstered by engagement logs, and prisons should consider that training may need to be completed for RMP processes

The peak of the outbreaks in our prisons due to the Omicron variant of Covid continues to decrease on a daily basis with more and more prisons being removed from ‘outbreak’ status. Local committees are reminded that regime progressions are solely based upon the cessation of Covid mitigations such as mask wearing and social distancing. Progressing regimes is not an excuse to return to pre covid regimes and the chaos and violence those regimes promoted. The days of full wing unlock and pointless association periods must cease.

All regime expansions must be agreed locally. If local committees have disagreements, they should inform their NEC area representative immediately so they may intervene.

I cannot reiterate enough that no POA member should put themselves at risk by performing a task that they feel is unsafe. If you feel unsafe at work, please liaise with your local POA committee who can raise your concerns with your Senior Managers. Moving forward it is imperative we maintain control, order, and discipline.

My message to you all is clear and unambiguous. 

If it is not safe to do then you should not work unsafely and should make yourself aware of your workplace rights as agreed in the legally binding POA Health and Safety Protocol.

Please continue to work safely 

All the best.

Yours Sincerely


Mark Fairhurst
National Chair

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.