Nearly 2,000 GPs self-isolating as BMA demands 'drastic improvement' in testing

An estimated 2,000 GPs are currently self-isolating, doctors' leaders have warned, calling on the government to ‘drastically improve’ access to COVID-19 testing to help them return to the frontline.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock revealed figures last week suggesting that around 100,000 NHS workers were absent from work and may be self-isolating.

GPonline has since learned that around 4.2% of GPs are absent from work - meaning that 1,927 of the 45,900 headcount GP workforce could be in self-isolation.

The BMA estimates that 6,000 to 7,000 NHS staff and family members are being tested per day currently, suggesting it would take over two weeks to work through the current backlog even if no more staff began self-isolating.

NHS workforce

GPs say this rate is ‘far below what is needed to make substantial progress’ in helping large numbers of healthcare staff back to work quickly.

The BMA says it has been contacted by dozens of doctors in recent days expressing frustration at their inability to book an appointment to be tested for COVID-19. The union said low numbers of test facilities, a confusing appointment system and poor guidance were the main reasons why testing of healthcare staff was ‘not as good as it could be’.

GPonline has also reported that clinicians are facing long journeys to access testing, with BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey suggesting testing sites should be placed in every CCG.

Chair of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee Dr Sarah Hallett said: ‘The frustration for health workers is that if we had easier access to testing, it might get us back to working with our patients quicker.

Self-isolation

‘I developed a dry cough a few weeks ago, and therefore had to self-isolate. My flatmates are also doctors, working in A&E and general practice, and so they had to stay off for 14 days despite never showing any symptoms themselves.

‘The staffing shortages are already considerable; all of us would rather be helping with this crisis than stuck at home. Access to testing could put doctors back on the NHS frontline, supporting their colleagues, and looking after patients during this national crisis.’

Mr Hancock announced on Friday that all NHS workers could access COVID-19 testing, but admitted that uptake had been ‘lower than anticipated’.

The government aims to process tests within 48 hours and wants to create 50 drive-through test sites by the end of April.

On 23 April, Mr Hancock said: 'From today, employers of essential workers will be able to go on gov.uk to get a test for any of their staff who need a test. And from tomorrow, any essential workers who need a test will be able to book an appointment on gov.uk themselves directly. This all applies for people in essential workers’ households who need a test too. It’s all part of getting Britain back on her feet.'

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