COVID-19 testing fiasco forcing GPs and hospital doctors to stay off work

'Clear capacity problems' with the government's COVID-19 testing regime are undermining the NHS workforce across primary and secondary care - forcing doctors to stay off work because they or family members cannot access tests.

COVID-19 swab test (Photo: RapidEye/Getty Images)
COVID-19 swab test (Photo: RapidEye/Getty Images)

GPs and hospitals doctors are continuing to highlight cases of NHS workers - as well as patients - unable to access tests and being offered tests far from home.

One East Yorkshire GP tweeted on 14 September that she knew of five colleagues who needed tests and had been unable to get them - warning the situation was 'the same across the country'.

NHS Providers, which represents trusts, warned on 15 September that 'clear capacity problems' had left NHS staff across the country unable to work.

Testing capacity

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: 'It’s clear that there are current capacity problems with the testing regime. Trust leaders from Bristol, Leeds and London have all raised concerns over the weekend about the lack of testing availability leading to greater levels of staff absence.

'It’s not just access for tests for staff members themselves, it’s also access for their family members as NHS workers have to self-isolate if their family members are unable to confirm if they have COVID-19 or not.'

The warnings came as BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, speaking at the association's annual representative meeting (ARM), hit out at the government for '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'.

The north London GP told the conference: '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.'

GPs warned last week that the testing system was 'not working' - with a senior Test and Trace official forced to explain that the 'pinch point' in the system was capacity in laboratories that process tests, rather than at testing centres.

Warnings over the breakdown in the government's testing strategy come amid a surge in COVID-19 that has seen cases rise to levels last seen in early May.

Polling by the BMA earlier this week found that 86% of more than 8,000 doctors and medical students who responded said that a second peak of coronavirus was likely or very likely in the next six months - with some reports now suggesting the second wave has started.

A DHSC spokesperson said: 'Throughout the pandemic, we have been transparent about our response to coronavirus and continue to be guided by the latest scientific and medical evidence.

'NHS Test and Trace is working, our capacity is the highest it has ever been but we are seeing a significant demand for tests. New booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for people with symptoms and we are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most.

'Our laboratories are processing more than a million tests a week and we recently announced new facilities and technology to process results even faster.'

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