Premature halt to asymptomatic COVID-19 tests threatens staff and patient safety, says BMA

The government's decision to pause asymptomatic COVID-19 testing across the NHS from the end of August is premature and will put NHS staff and patients at risk, the BMA has warned.

BMA House (Photo: Malcolm Case-Green)

The government announced this week that routine asymptomatic testing of staff would be paused from 31 August, citing falling rates of COVID-19 infections.

However, the BMA said it is 'clear that asymptomatic testing must continue' in health and care settings - warning that even with falling case rates pausing tests will increase risk to staff and patients.

Office for National Statistics data for the week ending 6 August showed that one in 40 patients in England were infected with COVID-19, and that cases had fallen across most parts of the UK to 'levels last seen in mid-June'.

COVID-19 testing

However, GP practices are continuing to experience staff absences because of COVID-19 illness, adding to intense workload pressures.

A report from Devon LMC last week highlighted 'COVID-related illness, desperately needed leave and workforce resignations combined with highly elevated rates of patient demand and abuse' as key factors taking a toll on practice teams.

BMA occupational medicine committee co-chair Professor Raymond Agius said: 'The BMA is clear that continued asymptomatic testing must continue to be available in health and care settings, including hospitals and care homes, to protect people who are vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.

'While case rates may be falling, pausing asymptomatic testing will put both staff and patients at increased risk as they are exposed to more people who have the virus but do not know it. This in turn not only puts individuals' health at risk but if more staff do become ill and have to take time off sick with the virus this further threatens NHS capacity when we need it most.'

Staff and patient safety

The BMA warned that a blanket decision to pause testing nationwide ignored the need for local decision making to reflect different circumstances across the country.

Professor Agius said: 'Employers have an enduring legal obligation to implement measures to protect staff and patients, based on local risk assessments, and this duty cannot be overridden by blanket political decision-making. Ultimately therefore, any decision to change protective measures for healthcare staff and patients must be based on managers undertaking a local assessment of the ongoing risk of COVID-19.

'Unfortunately, this is a premature announcement from a government that seemingly wants to wish COVID-19 away, ignoring the reality that one in 40 people in England currently have the virus, and many remain susceptible to severe effects from it. This is much like the recent appalling decision to remove support for doctors with long COVID.'

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in

Just published

GP consultation

GP practices delivering 150,000 extra appointments per day compared with 2019

GP practices in England delivered 150,000 more appointments per working day in the...

Surgeon looking at a monitor in an operating theatre

NICE recommends non-invasive surgical procedure to target obesity

NICE has said that a non-invasive weight loss procedure should be used by the NHS...

GP trainee

Two training posts deliver one full-time GP on average, report warns

Two training posts are needed on average to deliver a single fully-qualified, full-time...

Dr Fiona Day

How to flourish as a GP by learning from the good and the difficult

Leadership and career coach Dr Fiona Day explains how GPs can grow and develop from...

Unhappy older woman sitting at home alone

Low mood – red flag symptoms

Low mood is a common presentation in primary care and can be a sign of a mental health...


PCN to take on GMS practice contract in landmark move for general practice

A GP practice in Hertfordshire could become the first to be run directly by a PCN...