Tests to be rolled out NHS from start of next week
- Credit: PA
Hundreds of frontline NHS staff will be tested as 33,000 beds are freed up to treat coronavirus patients across the UK.
In the daily press conference at Downing Street on Friday, Michael Gove announced the government a new “alliance” had been formed between businesses, research institutes and universities to boost testing capacities for frontline working.
It comes after prime minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock were confirmed to have the virus and the chief medical officer for England Chris Whitty has shown symptoms.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove told the conference that the “virus does not discriminate” - as new scientific figures show the rate of infection has been doubling every three to four days.
Unveiling the new government initiative to increase the number of NHS staff being tested, Mr Gove said: “This will be antigen testing - testing whether people currently have the disease - so that our health and social care workers can have security in the knowledge that they are safe to return to work if their test is negative
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“These tests will be trialled for people on the frontline starting immediately, with hundreds to take place by the end of the weekend - dramatically scaling up next week.”
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens added NHS staff would start being tested for coronavirus from next week, including critical care nurses, intensive care staff, ambulance workers and GPs.
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He also said that across England there are now 33,000 hospital beds, the equivalent of 50 hospitals, available to treat coronavirus patients.
Sir Simons said: ““From an NHS perspective, we think it is urgently important that we are able to test frontline workers who are off sick or otherwise isolating.
“That’s why the work that Public Health England has been leading is so important because it means we are going to be able to double this time next week the number of tests we have been doing this week.
“I can say that today we will be rolling out staff testing across the NHS, starting next week with the critical care nurses, other staff in intensive care, emergency departments, ambulance services, GPs.
“As testing volumes continue to increase, we want to widen that to essential public service workers, as well as our social care workers, and continue with patient testing that is so vital.”
When asked, he defended his record on bed reductions and nurse numbers in the NHS.
Sir Simon said: “The NHS does need more staff and it does need more hospital beds, we’ve been saying that for some time and that’s what’s going to be happening.
“But the reality is ... over the last several weeks we’ve freed up the equivalent of 50 hospitals across England ready and waiting for coronavirus patients.
“Under normal circumstances you would not keep 50 hospitals fully staffed with nurses and doctors not actually looking after patients.”
Currently, there are 6,200 confirmed Covid-19 patients being treated in English hospitals and he said that number is “only bound to rise in the coming days”. A further two new NHS Nightingale hospitals will be built in Birmingham and Manchester.
He also thanked the millions who turned out on Thursday evening to Clap For Carers and it meant an “enormous amount” to staff to know the “country was behind them”.Read more: NNUH prepares for coronavirus surge with 30 patients now in hospitalThe NHS chief executive addressed concerns raised by cancer patients after a number of services including operations had been postponed.
Mr Stevens said some cancer care would be stopped if both clinicians and patients agreed it would be too risky for them to travel.
“We have been clear that we do want essential and urgent cancer treatments to continue but that cancer specialists should have the opportunity, with their patients, to decide whether it is more risky for someone to embark on treatment at this particular time given that you are more vulnerable to infection if you begin a course of treatment, such as chemo, and become immuno-compromised as a result,” he said.
“Those are clinical decisions that will need to be taken.
“We also have agreed a landmark deal with all the independent hospitals across the country which has given us the opportunity to look after patients away from the busy hospitals that are treating coronavirus.”