GPs will be given priority for Covid testing ahead of the public, but after acute and care home staff, the Government has announced.
It comes as last week health secretary Matt Hancock said he would ‘set out in full an updated prioritisation’ for access to Covid tests, amid news that GPs and other healthcare workers were isolating unnecessarily.
Pulse exclusively revealed nearly two weeks ago that GPs were unable to work because they could not get hold of tests for themselves or their children.
In a statement to the House of Commons this afternoon, Mr Hancock said: ‘Today we have published our list of where tests are being prioritised, setting out how we will make sure tests are allocated where they are needed most.
‘First, to support acute clinical care. Second, to support and protect people in care homes. Third, NHS staff, including GPs and pharmacists. Fourth, targeted testing for outbreak management and surveillance studies.
‘Fifth, testing for teaching staff with symptoms, so we can keep schools and classes open. And then the general public when they have symptoms, prioritising those in areas of high incidence.’
Mr Hancock said this comes as the country is ‘at a tipping point’ with the ‘virus spreading’, adding that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will update MPs ‘with any more action that we need to take’ tomorrow.
Earlier today, the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned that virus cases are on course to reach 50,000 a day by mid-October, resulting in over 200 daily deaths by November.
He also said the Government was hopeful that a Covid vaccine could become available in the ‘early half’ of next year.
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty urged the public to take action to mitigate the spread by sticking to the current Covid rules.
Mr Hancock also announced a proposal for £10,000 fines for those who fail to self-isolate when required.
The Government will also give a £500 support payment to those on low income who need to self-isolate. It will apply directly in England and be rolled out in the devolved nations via the Barnett formula.
Mr Hancock said: ‘NHS Test and Trace will make regular checks on those who are self-isolating. And we will crack down on employers who try to prevent staff from following the rules.
‘Over the past few months, self-isolation has been instrumental in breaking the chain and blunting the force of this virus. We know that it works. And with winter ahead, we will support everyone to do what is right to help stop the spread of this virus.’
He also listed new areas in the North of England which were put under local measures, adding parts of Lancashire, Merseyside, Warrington and Halton in addition to existing local lockdown areas.
But he said that having ‘heard the concerns about the impact of local action on childcare arrangements’ there will be ‘a new exemption for looking after children under the age of 14, or vulnerable adults, where that is necessary for caring purposes’.
He concluded: ‘This is a moment where we once again, must come together, to tackle this deadly disease.’
Also this afternoon, the UK Joint Biosecurity Centre recommended lifting the epidemic alert level from 3 (in general circulation) to 4 (epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially).