Care home isolation rules have been relaxed by the government in a bid to help ease pressures on health and social care.
Outbreak management rules will now be required for 14 days, down from 28 days previously, where there have been two or more positive cases of COVID-19 over a seven-day period.
The government said the move was designed to ensure safe and timely hospital discharges as a record 5.8m million NHS backlog has built up during the pandemic.
A government spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic we have done everything we can to protect those receiving care with the measures in place based on the latest scientific and expert advice.
“A change has been made to outbreak restrictions reducing the period from 28 to 14 days in line with this advice.
“We keep these measures under constant review to ensure we continue to protect the lives, health and wellbeing of residents and fully recognise the impact of isolation and the importance of companionship on physical and mental wellbeing.”
Professor Martin Green OBE, CEO, Care England, said: “As the largest and most diverse representative body for independent providers of adult social care, Care England is glad that the Government has listened to us and amended the parameters for classifying a COVID outbreak within a care home.
“The Omicron virus is affecting over a third of care homes, but there are encouraging signs from the data that the impact of this new variant is not as severe as in the previous waves of the pandemic. Staffing remains the most critical issue for social care and Care England will continue to push for a very swift response to changing guidance when it is appropriate, and when the data leads us in that direction.”
A report by the Health and Social Care Committee has, meanwhile, called for a health and care recovery plan to deal with the NHS backlog.
Responding to the report, a spokesperson a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The pandemic has put enormous pressures on the NHS but we are committed to supporting hardworking staff to ensure people get the treatment they need.
“We have provided an additional £5.9 billion to help tackle the backlogs and we are investing £36 billion over three years which will help deliver an extra 9 million checks, scans and operations for patients.
“We have over 5,100 doctors and nearly 10,000 more nurses in the NHS compared to last year and we’re committed to delivering 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament.”