Shropshire Star

Change in advice caused 11-fold jump in self-isolating fire service staff

A change in health advice caused an 11-fold jump in the number of fire service staff off self-isolating, a committee has heard.

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Shropshire and Wrekin Fire and Rescue Authority members heard that Public Health England guidance changed during the year meaning “close contacts” of anyone who tested positive for Covid-19 needed to isolate as well as the patients themselves.

Chief Fire Officer Rod Hammerton said those colleagues would typically spend two days awaiting a negative PCR test, but even those short absences had a large combined impact.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service finance chief Joanne Coadey said the brigade had spent 46 per cent more than planned on overtime in the first half of 2021-22. She noted that finding cover was more difficult than usual because it had to come from within the station’s “bubble”, rather than another site.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Dan Quinn told the Strategy and Resources Committee the PHE guidance change had a “massive impact”.

“We went from six to 68 individuals isolating across the organisation at a particular time,” he said.

He added that a positive case had been reported at the Market Drayton station shortly before the meeting.

“Close contacts are waiting to get a PCR test,” he added.

Chief Fire Officer Rod Hammerton said PHE asked close contacts to order and take a PCR test but did not require them to self-isolate while they waited for it.

He said he took the decision to send those staff home during that period as a precaution, “because of the potential impact of workplace transmission”.

“There is a two-day delay, normally, and there is a cost attached to that, but it has reduced the overall impact,” Officer Hammerton said. He added that no at-work coronavirus transmissions had been recorded, and said that was “a credit to the organisation”.

Ms Coadey’s report noted that the overtime overspend stood at £77,000 at the end of September, saying “additional shifts have been required from general sickness and also due to changes in the PHE guidelines on self-isolation following close contact”.

Ms Coadey told the committee that: “Because stations have been working in bubbles, we haven’t been able to bring in staff from other stations to cover that. We have had to recruit cover within the bubble.”

The report, which she co-authored with Treasurer James Walton and summarised brigade finances at the mid-year point, noted that underspends in other areas brought overall spending £224,000 below budget.

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