Health secretary Matt Hancock has said the Government will ‘set out in full an updated prioritisation’ for access to Covid tests, amid news that GPs and other healthcare workers are isolating unnecessarily.
This comes after Pulse exclusively revealed last Thursday that GPs were unable to work because they could not get hold of tests for themselves or their children.
Yesterday, the Doctors Association UK released the result of a snapshot survey which revealed that ‘hundreds’ of doctors, including GPs, are currently unable to access testing. Their survey of 750 doctors found 77% had been unable to access tests.
Meanwhile, the health secretary was called to Parliament to respond to an urgent question from Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth about the test shortage.
Mr Hancock responded: ‘I do not shirk from decisions about prioritisation. They are not always comfortable, but they are important. The top priority is, and always has been, acute clinical care. The next priority is social care, where we are now sending over 100,000 tests a day, because we have all seen the risks this virus poses in care homes.
‘We will set out in full an updated prioritisation, and I do not rule out further steps to ensure our tests are used according to those priorities. It is a choice that we must make.’
He also reiterated his claim from last week that the shortage was caused by ‘ineligble’ people requesting tests, and said it would take ‘a matter of weeks’ to sort out the problem of local shortages.
Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, said that like many other MPs she had ‘been inundated with emails from doctors, teachers and parents unable to access the tests that they desperately need’.
She added that ‘several of them have been advised that if they put an Aberdeen postcode into the system, they can get a test in Twickenham – and they have succeeded’.
‘How on earth is a world-beating test and trace system functioning like this, and what is the Secretary of State doing to fix it?’ she said.
Mr Hancock also faced questions from his own party members, with the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield Andrew Mitchell stating in the debate: ‘I am very concerned to hear today that Ley Hill Surgery has no fewer than four GPs who are having to self-isolate and cannot get a test.’
Speaking on BBC Newsnight yesterday evening, former RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard signalled that she had been reassured that GPs would get prioritised for testing.
She said she couldn’t comment on a ‘confidential’ meeting with the health secretary’ but she added:
‘What I can say is that there has been very strong assurances throughout the system that GPs… along with all healthcare professionals will be prioritised for testing. Because without strong healthcare professionals, free of disease, we can’t run our health service properly.’
Also speaking on the programme, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marhsall said GPs urgently need to be able to access Covid tests for their patients.
He said: ‘We see many patients in general practice who might have a fever, they might have viral respiratory tract infection symptoms, they might have a headache. All of these are symptoms that could be Covid but they could also be other serious conditions, like for example acute kidney infection, or septicaemia or meningitis, and our ability to be able to differentiate between Covid and those other conditions is really dependent on our ability to be able to access tests, swiftly, when we need them in the consultation.’