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Asymptomatic GP practice staff could have weekly coronavirus tests by autumn

by Sofia Lind
6 July 2020

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GPs could be taking regular Covid-19 tests every week or second week by autumn, NHS England’s chief executive has indicated.

Appearing last week in front of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, Simon Stevens was pressed by chair Jeremy Hunt on whether regular testing would be introduced for all staff.

Mr Hunt argued that routine testing of all NHS staff should take place ‘fortnightly, or more frequently as necessary’ to ‘minimise the risk of asymptomatic transmission’ as ‘we are going into winter’ when a second wave ‘could be so much more damaging’.

Asked by the former health secretary whether that could take place by the end of September, Mr Stevens said: ‘The aim, clearly, by the end of September or October is to have significant extra lab capacity so that, were the chief medical officer then to recommend a change in the asymptomatic staff testing policy, that would be something that could be delivered.’

Mr Stevens also said: ‘We want to see a significant further increase in testing capacity on the sort of timelines that you have described. I have discussed this with Dido Harding, who, as you know, is leading the testing and tracing service. I think their clear intention is to substantially expand testing capacity in the direction that you describe.’

It comes as the Department of Health and Social Care said at the beginning of April that it would be testing critical key workers regularly once widespread testing became available, while NHS England said at the end of April that asymptomatic NHS staff would get tested.

Despite this, the Government has so far only advised NHS Trusts to routinely test asymptomatic frontline staff, and only on a strategic basis to reduce infection risk where there is reason for concern.

But a recent study from Imperial College London suggested that weekly testing of healthcare workers is ‘estimated to reduce their contribution to transmission by 25-33%, on top of reductions achieved by self-isolation following symptoms’.

The Labour Party has previously called for all NHS staff to have weekly tests.

It also comes as from today, all care home staff will start to have weekly Covid-19 tests, while residents will be tested on a monthly basis.

The Department of Health and Social Care said repeat testing will be initially prioritised for care homes primarily looking after over 65s or those with dementia over the next four weeks, before being rolled out to all adult care homes in August.