Practices should be able to test for COVID-19, GPs say

GP practices have been 'completely left out' of coronavirus testing efforts, despite the fact that they are in contact with symptomatic patients and could conduct tests during consultations, GPs have said.

(Photo: Jane Barlow/Getty Images)
(Photo: Jane Barlow/Getty Images)

Doctors have said they are confused why GPs at 'hot sites' have been unable to swab and test patients - saying it does not make sense to ask people to book a separate test after consultations.

GPs have argued that the ability to test would streamline the testing process, with one calling the current testing pathway ‘chaos’.

At present, people with suspected coronavirus are advised to visit the official government website to book a COVID test, where they can select a regional test site drive-through appointment or home test kit.

The government last week announced that it has surpassed its 100,000 COVID-19 daily testing target, but the target has been missed numerous times this week, with ministers blaming 'technical issues' for the shortfall.

Limited clinician role

GPs have said that taking samples at hot sites would save time, improve diagnoses and help to save precious PPE.

Last week the government confirmed that army troops were running mobile testing units – it was aiming to have at least 96 mobile units available by the start this month. But Watford GP Dr Simon Hodes questioned asked why primary care had not yet been involved in testing despite seeing symptomaic patients.

‘It does feel odd to me that we haven’t had any access to testing at all. If somebody turns up at a hospital and is able to get swabbed, I don’t see why it should be any different in the community,' Dr Hodes said.

‘If you set up a hot clinic… it would seem normal, as part of a consultation, to take a swab - and not having that, at times, is almost bemusing to the patient [because we are telling them] to go online and refer yourself to a testing centre somewhere else... we've been completely left out of the narrative.'

Hot site potential

Dr Hodes suggsted that allowing hot hub staff to take swabs would simplify the testing process for patients and reduce PPE use. He said: ‘If you go to a hot hub you might end up seeing a GP and healthcare assistant, who are all wearing PPE. Then if the patient is told to go to a testing centre, another worker has to use PPE.

‘So you are not only inconveniencing the patient [by sending them elsewhere to get tested] but you are also using PPE unnecessarily when there is a shortage. I’m not saying that GPs can take on a national screening process, but I think they have a part to play.’

A recent BMA poll found more than two thirds of GPs have had to rely on PPE that they have bought themselves or had donated during the COVID-19 outbreak.

South London GP Dr Rosemary Leonard also voiced her frustrations at the current testing programme. Speaking on BBC Breakfast this week she said: ‘I would love to be able to, if a patient rings me up in my surgery and has got symptoms, organise a test… GPs should be able to do this [but the testing plan has] been chaos frankly.’

Testing mess

Dr Leonard told the programme that she understood primary care staff had not been allowed to swab and test patients due to complications over who would test samples and how they would be delivered to labs.

‘I cannot believe how complex this whole situation has become. I realise I’m being very critical here, but I do think. Testing has been a mess in this country and it needs to be sorted out properly,’ she added.

Hertfordshire GP Dr Sian Stanley also highlighted a lack of joined up thinking on Twitter, with another GP saying a lack of testing meant patients were returing to general practice with concerns.

The UK carried out over 122,000 coronavirus tests on the last day of April, passing the government's target. But around a third of these tests that had been sent to people's homes or healthcare sites may not have been used or sent back to labs.

The DHSC has been approached for comment.

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