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Tue, 4 August 2020

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Labour urges government to roll out weekly coronavirus tests for all NHS and care staff

Labour urges government to roll out weekly coronavirus tests for all NHS and care staff

Currently only 11 NHS trusts are routinely testing asymptomatic staff (PA)

3 min read

Labour has called on the Government to introduce routine testing for all NHS and social care staff to help minimise the transmission of the disease.

Currently, the majority of frontline staff can only get a Covid-19 test if they are exhibiting symptoms, with only 11 NHS trusts trialling routine testing, according to NHS Providers.

But Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said rolling the checks out to all frontline health workers was now an “urgent priority”.

He said: “Weekly testing of all healthcare workers reduces the spread of the virus and helps protect NHS staff and patients.”

“Eventually resetting the NHS to continue treating Covid and non-Covid patients is going to have to take priority. 

“This should include putting in place infection control measures to make sure patients can continue to safely receive their care, and routine testing of all staff should be a part of this.”

NHS England claimed in a letter dated 29 April that it would be extending regular testing to asymptomatic staff.

But, despite this, Labour say full-scale testing of all staff is yet to take place, with a spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) claiming it continues to focus on routine testing in care homes.

When asked about the delay by his predecessor Jeremy Hunt - who now chairs the Health Select Committee - Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted the Government was taking a “targeted approach”.

He told MPs on Wednesday: “Some people in hospital settings are at higher risk, and it is better to focus the resources for repeat testing on those at higher risk. 

“For instance, somebody working in finance might be at lower risk than somebody in a frontline setting. 

“The NHS has a strategy on this, and I will write to him with further details of how that is going to work.”

‘TWICE WEEKLY TESTING’

NHS Providers - the association body of NHS trusts - has also called for clarity on when the promised routing testing system would be implemented.

Its chief executive Chris Hopson said: "A clear testing strategy is now more important than ever as it is key to restarting routine services which were paused during the early weeks of the pandemic.

"There need to be open and honest conversations about how often staff are tested, which staff are tested, and the logistics of delivering such a complex and large-scale programme.

"There have been suggestions of testing all staff twice a week, weekly or fortnightly – all of these have different capacity requirements."

Mr Hopson also highlighted other challenges, including the logistics of testing across large sites, whether tests would be mandatory or voluntary, how time would be allocated to allow staff to be tested and which services would be prioritised.

Meanwhile, president of the Royal College of Surgeons Professor Derek Anderson told MPs it would be “pragmatic” for staff to be tested “twice-weekly” as available testing wasn’t perfect.

Giving evidence to the Health Select Committee on Wednesday, he said: "It's absolutely essential to regain public confidence that we are able to test our staff regularly."

He added: "There is adequate capacity, it just needs to be directed to those who need it most.”

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Coronavirus Health
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