Time to 'put GPs in driving seat' of COVID-19 testing, says shadow health secretary

GPs should be leading coronavirus testing locally, with private companies stripped of their role in the 'shambolic' NHS test and trace programme, Labour's shadow health secretary has told parliament.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images)
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images)

In an opposition day debate in the House of Commons on 24 June, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth hit out at the government over the current system, warning that GPs 'cannot carry out tests themselves and cannot book someone into a test'.

In cases where their patients are tested at facilities such as drive-through centres outsourced to subcontractors, he added 'there is no requirement for those tests to be sent back to a GP'.

'GPs do not know who is testing positive in their local area - it is not going on their health record,' Mr Ashworth told MPs. 'This is quite shambolic.'

COVID-19 testing

Just days after GPonline reported on warnings from GPs that primary care was an 'obvious blind spot' in the government's test and trace programme, the shadow health secretary said private companies such as outsourcing giant Serco should be 'kicked out of the NHS'. He told MPs: 'Local health offiicials and GPs should be leading our response.

'It is is time for the government to invest in public health services, to put GPs in the driving seat of testing, to give local authorities the localised data they need and begin a programme of routine testing of all NHS staff symptomatic or not.'

Responding to Labour calls for routine weekly testing of all NHS and social care staff - a move backed by former Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt -  care minister Helen Whatley announced plans for expanded testing that fell short of the opposition demands.

She told MPs that coronavirus had been the 'most serious pandemic our NHS has faced for more than a generation' and that the UK had slowed the spread of the virus and was now 'ramping up' services to work through a huge backlog of treatment delayed over the past three months.

NHS capacity

'Testing is critical as we ramp up services,' Ms Whatley told parliament. She said that testing capacity had grown significantly since the start of the pandemic, pointing out that in March capacity was less than 2,000 tests per day compared with 'over 237,000 tests' on 23 June.

She added: 'Today NHS England has written to trusts outlining further steps. This includes continuing to prioritise testing for all NHS staff with symptoms. Extra testing of non-symptomatic staff where there is an incident or outbreak or high prevalence, and regular surveillance testing of staff. On the advice of our CMO this will be fortnightly or more often depending on local or national epidemiology.'

The Labour party has called on the government to set out more detail on how the NHS will work through the backlog of testing and care delayed during the pandemic, warning that of more than 840,000 people currently waiting for diagnostic tests over half have been waiting more than six weeks.

A leading cancer charity warned earlier this month that 2.4m patients were waiting longer for cancer tests or treatment because of disruption caused by the pandemic. GPonline reported this week on a sharp rise in workload for practices as a 'tsunami' of work that would usually be completed by hospitals has been dumped on practices.

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