GPs handed access to COVID-19 swab tests for staff and patients

GP practices in England will be offered COVID-19 swab testing kits to speed up access to testing for staff and patients with symptoms of the virus, NHS England has said.

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

GPs will be offered supplies of COVID-19 swab testing kits 'on a voluntary opt-in basis' - with swabs intended to be for self administration only.

Practices choosing to take part will be able to hand out tests to patients presenting in GP practices with symptoms of COVID-19, or to 'symptomatic GPs, practice staff and their symptomatic household members'.

The move comes after repeated calls from GPs for better access to testing in primary care - and criticism of the failure to involve primary care in the test and trace programme.

Test and trace

GPonline reported last week on BMA polling that found 60% of GPs reported a colleague off sick or self-isolating in the previous fortnight, with many isolating while awaiting test results.

A leading global health expert told an RCGP event last month that the failure to involve general practice in test and trace had been 'a disaster and a national shame' - and a group of doctors wrote in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine last week that the millions of pounds spent on outsourcing the service should be diverted to primary care and local public health services.

NHS England's latest primary care bulletin confirms that while there is no plan for a radical rethink on the test and trace service, practices will now be able to request supplies of testing kits.

To date during the pandemic, only a handful of 'hot sites' set up by GP practices have been able to administer swab testing.

COVID-19 swab

The bulletin confirms: 'This will be a supplementary option for practices and does not replace any of the existing routes to access testing. Members of the public will continue to be directed to regional testing centres or home testing kits in the first instance.

'These tests can be offered to patients who present with COVID symptoms in general practice settings, to streamline patient care and increase access to testing for patients who would otherwise be unlikely to get a test via the primary testing routes.

'For example, due to barriers around language, disability or digital inclusion. Practices can use their discretion to offer the swabs where they deem it to be clinically appropriate.

'Following requests from GPs to have increased access to testing, these tests will also be available for symptomatic GPs, practice staff and their symptomatic household members to support general practice settings remaining operational. Test results for anyone using these swabs will be sent to patients and flow into GP records, in the same manner as other pillar 2 test results.'

GP practices are set to receive further information via email from NHS England on how to opt in.

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