Health secretary Matt Hancock has given his strongest signal yet that weekly mass testing of NHS, social care and school staff could start this autumn thanks to new 90-minute COVID tests
In his first update to the Commons since its summer break, Hancock told MPs that he wanted to roll out “as widely as possible” new rapid swab tests as well as tests that used saliva and “pooled” several cases at once for speed.
Dr Jonathan Leach, honorary secretary of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs and our teams are committed to delivering care to patients despite the challenging circumstances presented by the COVID pandemic, but they must be well enough to do so, and testing of frontline staff makes that possible. As such, weekly testing of NHS staff on a voluntary basis seems sensible – we know that testing reduces doubt and anxiety for frontline healthcare professionals, as well as reassurance for patients who may be, understandably, worried about the current situation.
“We’ve also heard from numerous GPs and members of the wider practice team that testing for frontline NHS staff has allowed staff to find out whether or not they have COVID and if not, return to work without having to self-isolate. Throughout the pandemic this has increased the capacity of general practice and the wider NHS ensuring patients can continue to receive the care they need.
“However, weekly testing in general practice may have unintended consequences and practical implications so we would like to see strong, unambiguous guidance from NHS England, outlining how workforce capacity would be protected alongside this initiative. We’d also like to see detailed plans on how these tests would be carried out in practice and assurance from the government that there is capacity to fulfil this initiative with results being made available swiftly as this is the only way the weekly testing’s aim – to keep the patients and healthcare professionals safe without diminishing the NHS workforce – will be achieved.”