We are in an unprecedented time.
Everyone I speak to is of the same opinion – never in living memory has the whole world faced such a challenge.
Coronavirus is impacting everyone, with borders closing, lockdowns happening, and economies failing. Most tragically, people are dying.
There are two terms that we are currently hearing a lot about. They mean different things but are often being used interchangeably. They are:
Social distancing – this means trying to avoid contact with other people and spending less time in public places where there are a lot of people congregating.
Self-isolation – this means cutting yourself off from the rest of the population. At present, this is recommended for a 14-day period only for people who have symptoms or who are living with someone who has symptoms.
Whilst we are continuing to hear a lot about the impact the virus is having on the NHS and healthcare professionals, there has been a lot of commentary on social media relating to the lack of guidance and thought being given to those in the dental world.
We have to consider not only the practical issue of trying to manage the dental health of our patients at the same time as protecting the general health of patients and staff, but also what happens if many of us have to go into self-isolation or if the country follows the same path as Spain and Italy and we go into lockdown.
What about my pay?
The government has been working hard to create an action plan to help support businesses and employees in this daunting time. To that end, it has announced a number of measures that will be in effect throughout the pandemic.
If you are an employee and are too ill to work, you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). This is paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks, and at present it is valued at £94.25 per week. You are able to claim SSP if you are self-isolating because of Covid-19, and this includes where you are caring for self-isolating people in the same household and are therefore advised to do a household quarantine.
In a bid to help support the country, the government recently changed legislation to state that SSP can be claimed from Day 1 of absence from work due to sickness or to the need to stay home due to Covid-19. This new legislation will be retrospectively applied from 13th March 2020; you should talk to your employer if you are eligible for SSP and need to make a claim.
Another change that has been introduced is the ‘Isolation Note’. If you have Covid-19 or are required to stay at home for self-isolation rather than visiting a doctor, you can get an isolation note via NHS 111 online (https://111.nhs.uk/isolation-note/). This also acts to replace the need for a ‘Fit Note’ after seven days of sickness absence.
Remember, it is important to talk to your employer to check your sick pay entitlement. For further information, you can visit the SSP government page at: https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay
If an employer is unable to cover the cost of staff wages because of a downturn in business due to Covid-19, they may be able to access support to continue to pay up to 80% (up to a maximum of £2500) of an individual's wages. This is in a bid to prevent the alternative of redundancies.
This scheme is known as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and means that as an employee you will be kept on payroll rather than being laid off – BUT you must not undertake ANY work for your employer whilst you are furloughed. This will then allow your employer to claim the grant towards your wages. It is, however, up to the discretion of your employer whether they make up the remaining 20% of your salary.
If you find that your salary is reduced, you may be able to apply for support yourself through the welfare system, for example by claiming Universal Credit. At present, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is intended to run for three months from 1st March 2020 but will be extended if necessary.
If you are on a low income and are affected by the impacts of Covid-19, whether you are in or out of work you will be able to access the full range of benefits in the welfare system. From 6th April 2020, the government has said that it is increasing the standard allowance in Universal Credit and the basic element in Working Tax Credit for one year; both will increase by £20 per week on top of the standard planned annual increase.
What if I am self-employed?
You will be able to claim Universal Credit, so long as you meet the usual eligibility criteria.
To support those who are self-employed with the economic impact of the pandemic and to help ensure that those who are self-employed follow government guidance on self-isolation and social distancing, the requirements for the minimum income floor will be relaxed temporarily as of 6th April 2020. It is also important to note that new claimants will not need to attend a Jobcentre to demonstrate gainful self-employment.
What can/should I do if the practice closes or if I have to self-isolate?
If you are not unwell, then the prospect of self-isolation or not being at work during a time of recommended social distancing can seem daunting. Jokes about ‘too much family time’ aside, we can all end up suffering from ‘cabin fever’, and this in turn can risk our mental health.
Take the opportunity of time away from work to complete CPD. This can be done online and will ensure you are meeting your professional requirements; it can also give you a focus during your time off.
Use this time to challenge yourself – see how original you can be in continuing your own development and supporting yourself, your colleagues and your patients. I would love to hear from you any ideas you have come up with.
Remember, though, that if you are furloughed over this time, you must ensure you are not completing any work for your practice in line with the furlough requirements.
Maintaining good mental and physical health
These are anxious times; we are in an unknown situation that is changing rapidly, and most (if not all) of us are feeling at the very least concerned. So how can we look after our mental and physical health during these times?
As mentioned above, although we are physically isolating or distancing, our amazing range of technology means we do not have to be mentally isolated. The first thing to do is talk to people. Stay in touch with friends and family via telephones, text messaging, social media and options such as FaceTime.
Keep calm. Whilst this sounds obvious, one of the negative parts of being so connected with the outside world is that it is hard to not panic about daunting headlines and social media posts. Take the time to find a positive online community to follow, and perhaps limit how often you check online for news. Try to look at any data in a positive way; for example, look at the two different ways the information below is stated:
‘As of 9am 18th March 2020, out of the 56,221 people in the UK to have been tested for coronavirus 2,626 were confirmed positive.’
‘As of 9am 18th March 2020, out of 56,221 people in the UK to have been tested for coronavirus, 53,595 were confirmed negative.’
Look at ways of keeping busy; we have looked at ways to continue with working from home, but you can try to think of other things to do. For example, you could use the time for ‘spring cleaning’. If you have children at home, perhaps look at activities you can do together such as arts and crafts, board games, or setting up a scavenger hunt around the house and/or garden. Try to set a new daily routine to replace the routine of going to work or school – this will help to create a new normality.
If you are beginning to feel overwhelmed, consider ‘escaping’ the situation for a while by reading a book. This will give you a break from other people and from the temptation of becoming a ‘screenaholic’ with box sets of TV programmes or films.
Exercise is encouraged; look at ways of exercising indoors, for example by following fitness and workout videos online. Perhaps look at yoga/pilates or other meditative videos to follow; such routines are good for physical health but will also help you to remain calm and increase positive mental health.
I have been really impressed, for example, by my brother’s management strategy; he works for a gym, which has been closed. They are using social media to run live ‘follow along at home’ training sessions using items that can be found in the home rather than standard gym equipment.
Take care to ensure you eat healthy, well-balanced meals, and drink enough water. Try to avoid consuming too much alcohol. Avoid smoking.
Keep windows open to let in fresh air. Get some natural sunlight if possible and try to go outside into your garden if you have one. The government has said it is also possible to still go for walks or runs outdoors if you maintain social distancing – a safe distance is classed as two metres minimum.
An excellent way to reduce thoughts of worry is to think about how you can help others who are struggling at the moment. You may want to share a positive message on social media or remind your friends and family to take care of their oral health at this time. Consider publishing posts on social media reminding your followers to brush their teeth or to avoid sugary drinks, for example. You may want to post pictures or videos of you and your family brushing your teeth or find fun ways to promote good oral health.
Remember, if you or anyone in your household has symptoms of coronavirus (new persistent cough/high temperature 37.8˚C), then you should follow government guidance.
It is important to keep looking after yourself mentally and physically at this time, and there is a lot of help and guidance available to support you. Further guidance can be found via the Public Health England publication ‘Guidance on Social Distancing’. This is relevant to everyone in the UK and has particular information on protecting older and vulnerable adults.
Please let us know how you are managing and share any ideas you have for coping with self-isolation or social distancing through our Facebook page, Dental Nurse Network. Let's work together to get through this national challenge.
Written by Stephanie Carter RDT, RDH, RDN, DTLLS.