GP leaders say numbers of practice staff self-isolating unnecessarily are falling thanks to increased testing capacity across England - although the government remains well short of its 100,000 tests target for the end of April.
But BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline that it was difficult for some clinicians to access COVID-19 testing in parts of the country where staff had to travel ‘quite a distance’ to their nearest test centre.
Last month BMA emergency preparedness lead Dr Peter Holden told GPonline that he had been left frustrated by the distance he would have to travel to get tested. The Matlock, Derbyshire GP said his closest centre was in Nottingham - around an hour’s journey from his place of work.
Other GPs have taken to social media to express frustration at having to travel miles away for tests. The BMA is now encouraging doctors to report issues around accessing COVID-19 testing, setting up an online form for clinicians to share their experiences.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock confirmed on 17 April that all NHS workers and family members living with them would have access to testing. But with a reported 27 sites in England, Dr Vautrey warned there were challenges in some parts of the country with access to testing facilities.
‘If you are in one of the increasing number of areas that have a testing facility in your city or town, then it's relatively easy to get testing and there is certainly capacity for that,' the Leeds GP said. 'It's clearly more difficult if you've got to travel an hour or more to the testing facility to actually get that done.’
The government announced plans last week to establish up to 50 'drive-through regional testing sites' by the end of April, where frontline workers could be swabbed. But Dr Vautrey suggested that the government should almost quadruple this.
‘Ideally, you'd want one in every CCG area, so that it was relatively easy to access these sites. But that will also depend on the prevalence of COVID-related symptoms in an area as well.’
Dr Vautrey added that the number of practice staff self-isolating at home was 'reducing', although the primary care workforce has been hit hard, and said that staff continued to be supported to work from home as provision of equipment such as laptops improved.
One long-serving GP revealed on social media that a member of staff at their practice had to travel 25 miles for a test. Another doctor reminded the health secretary that not all staff could drive.
Staff member has a high temperature. The only testing available is 25 miles away. Luckily she has a car.— NHS GP ???????? PPE for GPs NOW (@uknhsgp) April 21, 2020
Carer last week had to get to Stansted Airport, 100 miles away. She couldn't get there. No transport.@MattHancock @Jeremy_Hunt@BBCNews @itvnews @SkyNews @Channel4News
The government has set a target of providing 100,000 tests per day by the end of April, but recently missed a target to deliver 25,000 by mid April.