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GPs demand access to coronavirus testing for primary care staff

GPs are calling for access to coronavirus (Covid-19) testing to be available to primary care professionals.

Going forward, only ill people in hospital will be tested for the virus, including healthcare professionals, following a Government announcement last week.

Over 1,200 GPs have signed a letter, published in The Times, calling for Covid-19 symptomatic NHS staff to be tested.

Lead author Dr Christopher Musgrave, a Devon GP partner, said: ‘From our observations, we believe that coronavirus is circulating far more widely than present case numbers suggest. 

‘Primary care staff will be among the most likely members of the population to be infected and become potential super-spreaders. 

‘This places us in the impossible ethical situation whee if we go to work with even minor respiratory symptoms we risk infecting countless vulnerable patients.

‘To not go to work with such a commonplace symptom would cause our service to collapse. It cannot be the case that the virus is targeting footballers and MPs over ordinary members of the population.’

GPs previously expressed frustration that health minister Nadine Dorries was tested for Covid-19 in these circumstances.

She and her 84-year-old mother are now recovering, but Kate Osborne, MP for Jarrow, has become the latest political figure to be diagnosed. 

Pulse has reported that several GPs are already in self-isolation after coming into contact with Covid-19 patients.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall argued that denying GPs tests could mean them having to self-isolare for longer, decimating an already stretched workforce.

He said: ‘Testing healthcare workers could be wise, because if they tested negative, then they could go back to work and assist with this outbreak.’

Speaking on Sky News’ All Out Politics show today (16 March), he added: ‘We need to be sensible with the resources our health service has – there isn’t any need to test the vast majority of people with symptoms.

‘The expectation is that approximately 15% of the general workforce will need to be isolated at any given time – clinicians are at the front line of the outbreak, and therefore their numbers might be more than that.’

Over the weekend, a leaked document from PHE explained why even symptomatic healthcare professionals are currently ineligible for swabbing.

It read: ‘As many as 80% of the population are expected to be infected with Covid-19 in the next 12 months, and up to 15% (7.9 million people) may require hospitalisation.

‘Current laboratory testing capacity is approximately 4,000 tests per day, with an ambition to provide at least 10,000 tests per day going forward. 

‘The priority order has to be based on clinical need, ensuring that patients who are critically ill.’

Dr Katie Musgrave, a GP trainee and quality improvement fellow in Devon, told Pulse: ‘The message from GPs is clear – testing symptomatic healthcare workers for Covid-19 would be the safest approach. 

‘The priority must be preventing us from seeing vulnerable patients while they’re potentially infectious. We enter care homes and the elderly’s homes daily, and see the sickest patients in society.’