GPs can refer patients for free testing if a Covid diagnosis is required ‘to support clinical decisions’, NHS England has said.
In a primary care bulletin sent yesterday evening, NHS England also confirmed that patient-facing staff should continue twice-weekly asymptomatic Covid testing using lateral flow tests.
And in a change to testing policy, patient-facing staff who are contacts of a positive Covid case no longer need a PCR test to return to work.
They can continue to work as normal, as long as they continue to have no symptoms and test twice-weekly using lateral flow devices.
Symptomatic patient-facing staff should test using lateral flow tests and ‘continue to follow the current return-to-work guidance’.
It comes as free Covid testing for the majority of the population in England ended last week, although it will continue to be free for the most vulnerable patients and patient-facing NHS staff.
The bulletin said that ‘although the general public will not be offered Covid-19 tests routinely if symptomatic, there may be some instances where a clinician will want to offer a Covid-19 test as part of a diagnostic pathway to support clinical decisions’.
‘In these cases, patients should be directed to the gov.uk website to order their tests, where they will be asked to confirm that their clinician has requested this,’ it added.
The Government confirmed last week that GPs and other patient-facing healthcare workers in England will continue to receive free Covid tests.
However the NHS England bulletin said this would cease to include LAMP saliva tests.
Having argued for continued testing for healthcare workers, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said it was a ‘relief’ that Ministers scrapped plans to end access to free tests.
But he said that limiting testing to those in patient-facing roles ‘ignores the reality of working life’.
He added: ‘Staff in patient-facing roles or otherwise, are not segregated, and therefore can easily spread infection between each other. By artificially making this distinction we also risk pushing up staff absence rates which are already impacting on services and patient care.’
Meanwhile, the second Omicron wave saw Covid staff absences force GP practices to stop non-urgent care in some cases.
The Office for National Statistics‘ latest infection survey had estimated that 1 in 16 people in England had Covid the previous week, with cases continuing to rise by 3-6% per day last week.