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Testing Capacity Issues Are Stopping NHS Staff From Going To Work And Patients From Being Treated, Health Chiefs Warn

NHS Providers say a shortage of tests is preventing doctors from returning to work (PA)

4 min read

The ongoing coronavirus testing capacity issues are now stopping NHS staff from going to work and patients being treated, according to health chiefs.

Hospital leaders in Bristol, Leeds and London say workers have been forced to stay at home and self-isolate due to a lack of availability.

It comes after reports there are no Covid-19 tests available in the country’s ten worst hotspots for the disease, and the shortages could continue for weeks.

This morning home secretary Priti Patel said it was "wrong to say" there were no tests available, claiming the government is "surging capacity" in local lockdown areas.

But NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said the issue is having a “significant impact and a growing impact on the NHS, and that is a problem”.

He added: "Nobody knows how widespread this problem is, nobody knows how long it's going to go on for, nobody knows, for example, given that there are scarcities of tests, about who's going to be prioritised for those tests that are available."

He told Sky News: “Chief execs in Leeds and Bristol in London, all of whom are saying 'look we've got staff off that we simply can't afford to have off', because they can't get access to tests.

“And of course, part of the problem is that if you've got a family member who could have coronavirus and you can't get a test then you should be self-isolating, so it's not just actually the test for the individual member of staff, it’s also getting access to tests for their family members.

“And what we think has happened is that the volume of requests for testing has really risen exponentially after scores went back.”

He accused the government of not “being as open as trusts would like about how big this problem is, how widespread it is, and how long it's going to last”.

Mr Hopson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If you have got a demand-capacity mismatch, what you need to do is, kind of, prioritise really clearly, in terms of work out who should have greatest access to tests.

"Now, clearly from the NHS's point of view we would want to have our staff tested and we would also want to have our patients who are needing treatment. They are the people who are the real priorities."

And he added: "We have now got cases where patients who should be being treated, we can't treat them because they can't get access to a test.

"So, for them that's a real problem.”

His deputy at NHS Providers Saffron Cordery told the BBC services are being affected by a lack of testing, saying: "It means that trusts up and down the country are unable to start the restoration of services that we so desperately need to see after Covid.

"And also, critically, they are now preparing for winter and if they have staff unable to come and work on the front line because they haven't had tests that's going to make it incredibly difficult for them."

In response Ms Patel said: "I think we have to recognise this is challenging.

"There is no magic solution to say that it is all going to be perfect."

But speaking on BBC Breakfast she said: "Tests are available, you've heard me say, particularly in local lockdown areas, I've seen this myself, I've seen the teams that have been working on this.

"Mobile testing is going in, capacity is going into local areas where lockdowns have been undertaken and are taking place.

"I think it is wrong to say tests are not available, new book-in slots are being made available every single day, mobile testing units are being made available.

"And on top of that home testing kits are being issued across the country but specifically in local lockdown areas.”

And an NHS spokesperson said: “Hospitals continue to fully comply with recommended patient and staff testing protocols.

"To further support the national Test and Trace programme, NHS hospital labs have now been asked to further expand their successful, fast turnaround and highly accurate, testing capacity.”

The British Medical Association's council chairman will warn the government not to focus on its ambitious Operation Moonshot plan for 10 million tests a day, and instead focus on the current testing system.

In a speech to the doctors' union's annual meeting on Tuesday, Dr Chaand Nagpaul is expected to say: "The Government is now shooting for the moon promising to deliver mass continuous testing with a test that doesn't yet exist at a cost nearly as much as the total NHS budget.

"Down here on Planet Earth, we need a fit for purpose test and trace system in the here and now with capacity, agility and accessibility that doesn't require 100-mile journeys that disadvantage some of the most vulnerable."

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