There is a ‘compelling case’ for weekly Covid-19 testing for all NHS staff including GPs, the health select committee has said.
Concluding their inquiry on the delivery of NHS services during the pandemic, MPs said they could not understand why routine nationwide testing for all healthcare staff could not be introduced.
Their report put together after months of hearings called for urgent action to assess and tackle the backlog of appointments for patients.
The committee also paid tribute to frontline NHS and care staff who had lost their lives to coronavirus.
It found that NHS and care staff workforce had experienced fatigue, exhaustion and were otherwise ‘burnt out’, with staff wellbeing considered to be at significant risk.
Committee chair Jeremy Hunt said the pandemic had ‘massively impacted normal NHS services’ which could have been mitigated with earlier infection control measures in hospitals and clearer communication with patients who had their care disrupted.
‘Weekly testing of NHS staff has been repeatedly promised in hotspot areas – but is still not being delivered. Failure to do so creates a real risk that the NHS will be forced to retreat into being a largely Covid-only service during a second spike,’ he said.
The committee urged the Government to set out clearly why it is yet to implement such an approach.
And it asked chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty to clarify to what extent testing capacity has impacted the advice he and his colleagues have provided to the Government on routine testing of NHS staff and whether he has advised the Government to it in the current virus hotspots and if not, why.
The report concluded that those who caring for patients should not be put at any ‘further unnecessary risk’ of catching or spreading Covid-19, with steps taken to expand testing capacity before winter.
It called on the Government to set out what steps are being taken to ‘a consistent and reliable supply of appropriately fitting PPE’ to all NHS staff in advance of a second wave.
Elective surgery, mental health services, cancer treatments and dental care were all highlighted by the report as being been significantly curtailed by the pandemic.
MPs heard evidence of large drops in diagnostic cancer tests, urgent cancer referrals, and screening.
NHS Providers’ chief executive Chris Hopson had told the committee that elective surgery would take ‘many months, more likely years, to get through’.
Despite the ongoing efforts to manage the backlog of patients, it remains unclear what practical steps the Government and NHS England to deal with pent-up demand, the report said.
The committee also asked NHS England to review ‘as a matter of priority’ about how to communicate with patients about the progress of their treatment and important medical guidance in any future spike or second wave.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘Testing of healthcare workers contributes to our overall understanding of the spread of the virus and helps to protect patient and communities through the prevention of transmission.
‘However, we still need to see more robust evidence on the frequency and under what circumstances the testing of all NHS staff should take place.’