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Letter to AIHHP Members from their Chair

March 27, 2020

Dear AIHHP Exec & Full Members,

Boris Johnson addressed the nation on Monday evening 23rd March implementing a lockdown in order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Part of these measures was a complete shutdown of retail business.

On Wednesday 25th March the government released further guidance with a list of retail businesses that are exempt from forced closure. Audiology clinics are in the list of notable exceptions and therefore will not be forced to close: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close-guidance

However, business staying open must still adhere to the Public Health England guidelines, which include keeping a distance of 2m from others. This means that all routine, non-essential procedures and face to face appointments must be stopped for now. This includes hearing aid consultations, otoscopy, ear wax removal, hearing tests and any other diagnostic Audiology.

We can however provide some essential services whilst maintaining safe social distancing such as:

  • Postal hearing aid repairs
  • Postal Battery and wax guards etc
  • Replacement lost hearing aids by post
  • Remote programming or tele-audiology
  • Telephone consultations / trouble shooting

You may also want to consider setting up a drop off and collection service for hearing aid repairs or picking up batteries. Patients and staff must maintain strict social distancing so this may mean limiting the number of people in your waiting area or limiting the number of staff you have in the practice. You must at all times continue to follow strict infection control measures within your practices.

For further guidance see the BAA COVID-19 response https://www.baaudiology.org/indexphpnews/news-home/british-academy-audiology-response-covid-19-nhs-england-essential-activity-audiology/#.XnyfA4j7SUn

The fact that retail Audiology clinics are exempt from forced closure means that we can provide these essential services from our clinics. It does not mean business as usual. In the coming days and weeks we may also be asked to provide help to NHS audiology patients as many hospital Audiology departments have closed and Audiologists deployed to help with the fight against the virus.

I know from reading social media that many of you made the admirable decision to close your businesses even before the Prime Ministers announcements on Monday evening. I know what a difficult decision this must have been, but I believe it is absolutely the correct decision to protect the health of our patients, our staff and to do our part to stop the spread of this virus in our country.

Many of our businesses will be severely affected financially. Please keep yourself updated on the business support packages being offered by the government:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The government has introduced a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which will be available to all employers and will be backdated to March 2020.

All UK employers will be able to access this support. It has been designed to enable employers to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees who would have otherwise have been laid off.  These employees will become a furlough worker. This does not include employees who are working reduced hours, only those that would have been laid off.

HMRC will reimburse 80% of ‘furloughed workers’ wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month, per employee. HMRC are working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers at this stage.

My understanding of the situation is as follows:

  • An employee is kept on the payroll if they are furloughed.
  • To qualify as furloughed the employee must not undertake any work for the employer, this will allow the employer to obtain the grant.
  • The employer has the choice as to whether they fund the difference between the 80% pay and the employee’s usual salary, but they are not obliged to.
  • If salary is reduced enough, an employee may be eligible for support through the welfare system.
  • The system is running from 1 Mar 2020 for at least 3 months and will be extended if necessary.

To access the scheme you will need to:

  • Designate the affected employees as ‘furloughed workers’ and notify your employees of this change – the employees will need to agree to this change, by way of an amendment to contract
  • Submit the details of those employees that have been furloughed to HMRC together with their earnings.  This will be through a new online portal, HMRC will be providing further details of this in due course.

Changing the status of an employee remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation.

https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

Finally, I ask all AIHHP members to stay in touch and support each other through this difficult time, either by using the AIHHP forum or on our Facebook page. The situation and advice is changing so rapidly that we need to keep each other informed as best we can.

Best wishes

Rony Ganguly

AIHHP Chair

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If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting your new Chair, please check his bio out here:

https://pindrophearing.co.uk/why-pindrop/our-team/rony-ganguly/

Rony Ganguly MSc RHAD
Director of Pindrop Hearing
Clinical Scientist (Audiology)
& Registered Hearing Aid Dispenser

0207 487 2660
www.pindrophearing.co.uk