A group of doctors have written to the Government to ask for the ‘hundreds of millions’ spent on ‘failing’ NHS Test and Trace to be handed to ‘local primary care, local NHS labs and local public health services’.
The doctors, writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, argue that the current Covid-19 PCR swab is not sufficiently accurate and Covid diagnoses require ‘clinical interpretation’.
Their paper says this comes as ‘many GPs have complained of their inability to request Covid-19 PCR swabs in practice, having to refer patients to centralised testing sites’.
It adds: ‘Results on tests, intentionally not delivered to GPs at all, now arrive without enough information for interpretation or for epidemiological purposes, lacking information on reason for testing, or risk factors.’
The authors point out that 29% of PCR swabs may be ‘false negatives’, with co-author Professor Allyson Pollock, of the Institute of Population Health Sciences, Newcastle University, commenting: ‘Clinical input is required to marry symptoms with test results. A false-negative result in someone with Covid symptoms may result in false reassurance, leading to symptomatic people stopping isolation on the basis of a false-negative test, risking spreading infection.
‘On the other hand positive tests resulting from testing undertaken outside health services on healthy symptomless people could lead to unnecessary isolation of cases and contacts.’
Co-author Dr Margaret McCartney, a GP in Glasgow, said: ‘Reintegrating testing into clinical care and public health services, rather than handing contracts to commercial companies, would ensure that the complexity of testing and interpreting test results was acknowledged and accounted for in the diagnosis and reporting of cases.’
Their paper concluded: ‘We call on the Westminster government to end privatisation of testing and to reinstate and invest in NHS primary care, public health, and NHS laboratory services, and redirect the resources from the current private testing programmes back into the local primary care, local NHS labs and local public health sector, directed by clinically led need and with clinical oversight.’
Last week, Labour MP Catherine McKinnell also called for GPs and local health services to be handed the keys to run the NHS test and trace system, as their ‘local expertise’ and knowledge will mean they ‘can do a better job’.
In another House of Commons debate in June, Jon Ashworth, shadow health secretary, also urged the Government to ‘put GPs in the driving seat’ of the system.
But the RCGP has said that GPs should not be ‘a replacement for a centralised testing system’.
It comes as NHS Test and Trace has been criticised for its failure to curb the spread of the virus, with long processing times for returning tests and many contacts of positive cases remaining untraced.