NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis confirmed this week that regular testing of asymptomatic frontline NHS staff would be rolled out from this week after confirmation from the Test and Trace programme that sufficient numbers of testing kits were available.
Professor Powis wrote that staff would be able to test themselves at home, with results available before they came into work.
NHS England has now confirmed to GPonline that GPs will be tested under the scheme, although the logistics and timescale are ‘still being worked on’. The move is a step up from plans reported last month for the government to roll out testing for asymptomatic staff in areas hit hardest by COVID-19.
Testing asymptomatic staff
The decision to provide asymptomatic staff with regular testing comes after repeated calls from doctors' leaders and from House of Commons health and social care committee chair Jeremy Hunt for the rollout of routine tests.
Mr Hunt argued in a Commons debate on 1 September that testing of NHS staff would help to reassure patients using health services with the pandemic still at large.
Professor Powis has said that 34 NHS trusts will begin testing this week covering over 250,000 staff, with roll out across all trusts by the end of next week.
‘Following further scientific validation of the lateral flow testing modality last week, and confirmation over the weekend from Test and Trace that they can now supply the NHS with sufficient test kits,’ he said.
NHS England says that over 70,000 asymptomatic NHS staff have been tested in recent weeks in parts of the country with outbreaks.
Responding to the announcement, Mr Hunt said: ‘This committee has been pressing the government since the summer for a commitment that it would introduce regular testing for NHS staff. It will make a huge different in enabling non-COVID services to stay open, give staff the confidence they won’t pass on infections to patients and reassure patients that hospitals are safe to use.’
Swab testing has been available to symptomatic and asymptomatic GPs since mid-April, while antibody testing was rolled out to health professionals in May. However, staff are not tested frequently and must book their own tests through their employer.
GPs also reported being unable to access swab tests at the start of September - keeping many out of work. GPonline reported last month that three in five GPs reported they or colleagues had been forced to self-isolate within the previous fortnight - reducing primary care capacity and forcing the cancellation of appointments.