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RCGP calls on health secretary to improve Covid testing strategy and accuracy

GPs’ confidence in Covid-19 testing is being ‘undermined’ by lengthy waiting times for results and questions around accuracy of results, the RCGP has said.

In a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, the college urged the Government to shift away from ‘arbitrary numbers and targets’ and focus on ensuring health professionals and the public can access Covid-19 testing, in order to prevent a second wave of infections when the lockdown eases.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall called for a joined up strategy where ‘the right people are tested at the right time’ across the NHS, social care and community services.

He said the strategy should include: 

  • pathology labs to update GP records with test results to help trace positive Covid-19 cases;
  • testing kits to be readily available for patients with symptoms;
  • GPs to be provided with clear guidance on how to assist patients with access to tests.

His letter said: ‘Any testing strategy should support the existing national effort to contain the virus, support key workers and prevent a second wave of infection, to keep the entire UK population safe and healthy.

‘It therefore must continue to ensure that the right people are tested at the right time to protect key workers and vulnerable patients. It should help us understand the virus and its spread better through test, track and trace. It should deliver timely results that patients and healthcare professionals can have confidence in.’

Professor Marshall further said it is ‘crucial’ that GPs receive ‘adequate guidance and transparent communication from government about testing so that they can interpret and act upon results’ and that ‘any testing strategy must commit to building confidence in the process, including a commitment to improving the sensitivity and specificity of the tests’.

His comments come after Pulse reported that NHS England advises symptomatic GPs to stay off work even if they receive a negative Covid-19 test result, amid the risk of ‘false negatives’.

Professor Marshall acknowledged that the Government has worked hard to boost testing capacity, but added: ‘[W]e do not believe that there is sufficient clarity on a joined-up comprehensive testing strategy to prevent a second wave of infections and to secure the overall health of the population.

‘As we ease lockdown over the coming weeks and months it is essential that the profession and patients have full confidence in the approach to test, track and trace.’

It comes as Public Health England also approved the first antibody test for the UK market last week, however the Government declined to tell Pulse when GPs would be able to access it.