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Now NHS staff are missing work because of testing problems

PUBLISHED: 08:32 15 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:52 15 September 2020

Postwick Covid-19 testing centre at 7pm on September 14. Picture: Mike Page

Postwick Covid-19 testing centre at 7pm on September 14. Picture: Mike Page

Copypright Mike Page, All Rights Reserved Before any use is made of this picture, including dispaly, publication, broadcast, syn

A lack of testing is contributing to staff absences across the NHS, putting services at risk, health leaders have warned.

NHS Providers, which represents NHS trust leaders, said hospitals in Bristol, Leeds and London had raised concerns about the lack of tests available for NHS staff.

In Norwich, a frontline worker at the East of England Ambulance Trust, said she was missing work this week with a cough, because she had been unable to book a test.

“The situation is dire,” she said. “NHS workers should have priority access to tests.”

NHS Providers warned that the recovery of normal health services was being put in jeopardy.

Testing centres are sitting empty while people struggle to book coronavirus tests because of a lack of lab capacity. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA WireTesting centres are sitting empty while people struggle to book coronavirus tests because of a lack of lab capacity. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Testing has come under intense scrutiny after people across England reported they were unable to book tests, or were being offered tests hundreds of miles away.

Others showed up for tests but were turned away from empty sites because they had not been sent a QR code.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: “The problem is that NHS trusts are working in the dark - they don’t know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests.

“They need to know all this information so that they can plan accordingly.

“For example, trusts need to know if they should try to create or re-establish their own testing facilities as quickly as possible.”

One ambulance worker said they had been waiting since the weekend to book a test. Photo: ArchantOne ambulance worker said they had been waiting since the weekend to book a test. Photo: Archant

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Mr Hopson said NHS trusts were also concerned about the impact of testing shortages on patients who need to be tested before being admitted for hospital treatment.

He added: “We need to prioritise tests for healthcare workers and their families and patients coming in for treatment, many of whom have already waited longer than normal.”

He urged the Government “to be honest and open” about what was going on,

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said testing capacity has been targeted at the hardest-hit areas following a rise in demand.

An NHS spokeswoman said: “Hospitals continue to fully comply with recommended patient and staff testing protocols. To further support the national Test and Trace programme, NHS hospital labs have now been asked to further expand their successful, fast turnaround and highly accurate, testing capacity.”

The British Medical Association’s council chairman said that despite the Government’s ambitious Operation Moonshot plan for millions of UK tests to be carried out daily, the focus must be on the testing system currently in place.

In a speech to the doctors’ union’s annual meeting on Tuesday, Dr Chaand Nagpaul will say: “The Government is now shooting for the moon promising to deliver mass continuous testing with a test that doesn’t yet exist at a cost nearly as much as the total NHS budget.

“Down here on Planet Earth, we need a fit for purpose test and trace system in the here and now with capacity, agility and accessibility that doesn’t require 100-mile journeys that disadvantage some of the most vulnerable.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted last week that there had been “challenges in access to tests” but insisted that “the vast majority of people get their tests rapidly and close to home”.

A DHSC spokesman added: “NHS Test and Trace is working, we are processing a million tests a week and if an individual has a valid appointment, they arrive on time and can prove they have a test, they should receive one.”


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