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.
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.