DAUK in GP Online: Doctors demand priority COVID-19 testing for frontline NHS staff

The government has set out plans to step up testing capacity to allow 10,000 coronavirus tests a day, with further expansion planned down the line.

Under current rules people with mild symptoms – a continuous cough or fever – have been told to self-isolate for seven days, and are not tested. Testing capacity is being focused instead on patients admitted to hospital.

But doctors’ leaders have warned that the failure to offer priority access to tests for frontline NHS staff – including GPs – risks exacerbating workforce shortages, with many doctors potentially forced to stay off work unnecessarily.

Dr Yaso Browne, DAUK GP Lead said:

‘On 12 March when the government decided within 24 hours to change plans from doing up to 10,000 tests a day to identify people with COVID-19 symptoms in hospitals, the public and healthcare workers have been left with some serious questions,’ she said.

‘It is apparent that those that may be critical are trying to be identified but healthcare professionals would like to know that they are coming in to work not infecting others and also that they can get back to work as soon as possible.

‘We support the government’s efforts to find on-the-spot and home testing and would also call for further transparency on whether it is achievable, in terms of supply and capacity, to test all NHS staff that are high risk or symptomatic.’

Warnings over the need for rapid testing for frontline staff came as the government confirmed on 16 March that the number of confirmed UK cases had risen to 1,543, with 35 deaths. The NHS has moved into the ‘delay’ phase of its response to coronavirus, and shifted to a policy of prioritising testing patients with greatest clinical need based on advice from CMO Professor Chris Whitty.

Update: since giving being interviewed for this article the government has now announced testing for frontline staff. We are very pleased to see this after weeks of sustained lobbying.