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GP access to Covid testing ‘has improved’, claims NHS England

GP access to Covid testing ‘has improved’, says NHS England

Access to Covid lateral flow tests for GPs and practice teams ‘has improved’, NHS England’s medical director for primary care has suggested.

GP practices have reported struggling to access tests, despite the provision of a ‘contingency supply’.

Speaking at a GP webinar yesterday evening, NHS England primary care medical director Dr Nikki Kanani said: ‘There have been a lot more test kits being pushed out now.

‘I’ve certainly felt that access to testing has improved [and] my networks are telling me the same.’

However, she added that practices should ‘link’ with their commissioner if they are still ‘struggling to receive the right volume of testing kits’.

It comes as BMA data from a snapshot survey of GPs last week, shared exclusively with Pulse, revealed that fewer than half (46%) were ‘always’ able to access lateral flow tests when needed within the past three weeks.

And the BMA’s GP Committee bulletin last week reported a ‘lack of access’ to both PCR and lateral flow testing for practice staff.

It said: ‘We continue to hear reports of lack of access to PCR and lateral flow tests, which is likely to be due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. It is crucial that the promised new supply of kits are offered to key workers such as health and social care staff as a priority.

‘Although the UK Health Security Agency has provided a contingency supply of LFTs from its prioritised stock for NHS health or social care staff, they are aware of the current supply issues and will provide additional contingency over the coming days in advance of further online capacity becoming available.’

Northumberland LMC medical secretary Dr Jane Lothian last week told Pulse she only managed to secure a ‘decent supply’ of tests for local practices after spending half a week trying to get them.

She said: ‘It’s all down to everybody scrabbling around locally to try and sort them out… it seems absolutely ridiculous.’

The LMC had been ‘tearing its hair out’ trying to sort of Covid staff absences and that there had been instances where GP staff could not return to work because they did not have access to LFTs, she said.

NHS England announced at the end of last month that GP practices struggling to get hold of Covid lateral flow tests (LFTs) can access a ‘significant contingency supply’.

The Government had also said last month that it would ‘double’ capacity for Covid testing after days of problems.

It comes as Covid pressures are forcing GPs to provide ‘urgent-only’ services in two areas, while a BMA survey revealed that almost 70% of GPs have seen staff shortages affect patient care.

Meanwhile, Dr Kanani added that NHS England will update its guidance on Covid staff isolation following the announcement yesterday that self-isolation can now be cut to five days if testing negative on a lateral flow test on day 5 and 6.

Since last month, GPs and practice staff in England can return to work from day seven of their isolation period if they test negative twice via LFT 24 hours apart and providing they continue to test negative daily until day 10 and are medically fit to do so.

And GPs and practice staff who are asymptomatic but still returning a positive LFT result on day 10 of their Covid isolation period should be risk assessed to return to work, in a move is designed to mitigate high levels of staff absences.

Additional reporting by Caitlin Tilley


Patrufini Duffy 14 January, 2022 3:08 pm

GPs access to covid, you mean, has improved.