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BMA demands reassurance GPs will have access to free Covid testing from Friday


‘Long-term NHS vaccination service’ under development, NHSE reveals


The BMA has written to NHS England demanding confirmation that GPs and practice staff will still be able to access free Covid testing from next month.

Under current guidance, NHS staff are required to test for Covid twice weekly, reporting their results before coming to work.

But GPs are still in the dark about whether they should continue this and whether free tests will be provided – with just three days to go before free testing ends for the general public in England.

In a letter to NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard yesterday, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that staff and patients’ health and safety cannot be ‘compromised because of funding’ amid ‘stated funding concerns’ around the continuation of free testing.

He said: ‘I was reassured that NHS England has decided to maintain the policy that NHS staff who test positive for Covid will not be required to attend work and that the Covid-related sickness absence and pay will remain in place. 

‘I am, however, writing to ask for your reassurance that regular free Covid testing of NHS staff will also remain in place beyond 1 April, to protect healthcare workers and patients.’

Dr Nagpaul understands that ‘conversations have been ongoing with the Treasury around additional funding for these measures’, he said.

The letter added that any reduction in testing will ‘inevitably result in the increased spread of infection from healthcare workers to their colleagues and patients’ as well as higher Covid-related absences, which still account for 30% of all NHS staffing absences. 

It said: ‘Clearly, at a time when the NHS faces the largest backlog of care, amidst workforce shortages, we cannot afford to see any further reductions in staffing capacity.’

The BMA is also concerned that a reduction in testing by the public will ‘allow Covid to spread unchecked’ and threaten the NHS’s ‘ability to function properly’, it added.

In a statement, Dr Nagpaul added: ‘Healthcare settings should be places where people feel confident that they are not at risk of infection from Covid-19. 

‘Free, routine, testing of healthcare staff will be vital to ensure we protect patients and workers as much as possible.’

Last week, Pulse revealed that GPs are already running out of lateral flow tests (LFTs) and having to pay for them, despite the Government asking the public to leave them for NHS staff and vulnerable patients.

The Government had told the public that free LFTs would be available until the end of this month.

NHS England last month said continued staff Covid testing beyond 1 April was ‘under review’ and that it would write ‘in the coming weeks’ with detail on testing protocols for staff and patients.

However, no such advice has been forthcoming and GP practices remain in the dark about whether they should continue twice-weekly asymptomatic testing from 1 April – and if so, whether doctors and staff will have to fund this out of their own pockets. 

The BMA has warned that the health protection measure must not be scrapped, however NHS England board papers released last week indicated that no conclusion had been reached concerning funding for continued testing.

It comes amid a huge rise in Covid case numbers and hospitalisations in recent weeks – with NHS England warning that it is jeopardising the elective recovery plan – and as the majority of GPs in England surveyed by Pulse think Covid restrictions were removed too soon.

Pulse reported yesterday that a number of GP practices have had to shift to urgent-only care after staff Covid absences have left them struggling to maintain regular services.

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READERS' COMMENTS [4]

Ian Jacobs 29 March, 2022 11:46 am

We ( 3 adults ) are on holiday near Penzance ( hotspot +++ ) . We ordered and paid for 4 tests to be collected yesterday having been told that no further deliveries could be sent out to this area. Before collecting our order we managed to renegotiate the nhs website and each of us ordered a box of LFT’s to be collected at Boots – we had each received a code and a QR code as well. On arrival at Boots they said they had no nhs packs to give us and that many others were in the same situation and had come in expecting to pick up LFT packs only to be turned away . The ones we had ordered and paid for ( single test /pack ) were eventually found.

It seems crazy to stop free access to LFT’s now – when infection rates are so high. Most people will not bother to test if they have to pay and even ” private ” LFT supplies are difficult to find . It is obvious here that many folk with obvious symptoms ( coughs/sneezing/aches and pains ( massaging themselves ) are out and about mostly not wearing masks and seem unconcerned that they are infectious and should be isolating for at least 48 hours once diagnosed . However – it does seem that lft’s are not becoming positive until 2 or 3 days after Sx first appear.

Patrufini Duffy 29 March, 2022 3:54 pm

A certain group of people have spoilt it for the sensible few. You know the types, who play with covid, get it, then order 4 PCR tests to show they’re still positive, surprise surprise, and not negative before their skiing trip, and prosecco afternoon tea with so and so. Wasted on the irresponsible.

Dave Haddock 29 March, 2022 8:17 pm

Covid now less lethal than flu, even among the elderly.

Dave Haddock 29 March, 2022 8:19 pm

If the BMA believe “free” testing is so important, will the BMA be offering paid-for tests to all BMA staff?
If not, why not?