The Government has set an ambitious target of carrying out 100,000 Covid-19 tests per day in England by the end of April, but patients will be given priority over NHS staff.
Health secretary Matt Hancock yesterday announced a five-pillar plan which includes ‘ramping up’ the use of antigen tests for those who might currently have the Covid-19 virus and antibody tests for those who might have had it before and since recovered.
The health secretary pledged to ‘increase swab testing for key workers in the NHS’ but warned that repeated testing would only come ‘once widespread testing is available’ for patients.
The Government has been under growing pressure to introduce testing for NHS staff, so uninfected self-isolating workers could safely return to work and assist with growing pressures.
According to Mr Hancock, there are 35,000 NHS staff out of work because they or someone in their house had coronavirus symptoms.
He said: ‘I understand why NHS staff want tests, so they can get back to the frontline, of course I do.
‘But I took the decision that the first priority has to be the patients, for whom the results of a test could be the difference in treatment that is the difference between life and death. I believe anybody in my shoes would have taken the same decision.’
There have been some questions raised as to whether or not increasing the number of daily tests to 100,000 is achievable, particularly as the Government managed less than 11,000 yesterday.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said that while this increase is welcomed, the Government ‘must be realistic about what’s possible and not overpromise’.
He also urged ‘speed and accuracy’ in providing tests to NHS staff to ensure those self-isolating at home can return to the frontline as soon as possible.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for further detail about what proportion of that figure will be antibody tests and who will get them.
While he welcomed the increase in testing, he suggested that the figure falls short of the ‘250,000 Boris Johnson promised’.
Under the five-pillar test, the Government said it will:
Scale up swab testing in PHE labs and NHS hospitals for those with a medical need, and for the most critical workers to 25,000 a day by mid to late April;
Deliver increased commercial swab testing for critical key workers in the NHS, before expanding to key workers in other sectors;
Develop blood testing to determine if people have antibodies to Covid-19;
Conduct surveillance testing to learn more about the spread of the disease and help develop new tests and treatments; and
Build mass testing capacity, at a completely new scale; working with the pharmaceutical industry.