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NHS leaders: Keep free Covid testing to protect general practice

by Jess Hacker
18 February 2022

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Nearly four-in-five (79%) NHS leaders from across primary and secondary care are against the Government’s expected plan to scrap free testing for the public.

Three-quarters (75%) of the 300 staff surveyed by the NHS Confederation said they did not want self-isolation rules to end.

The NHS Confederation – who questioned leaders in primary and secondary care – called for the current measures to remain in place, ahead of the Government’s incoming ‘Living with Covid-19’ strategy, due next week.

It warned that access to general practice and other routine care would risk further disruption if new strains of the virus are ‘allowed to spread’ with ‘reduced’ national oversight.

The Government’s new strategy –expected to be announced on Monday (21 February) – is heavily rumoured to be scrapping free lateral flow testing and bringing self-isolation to an end entirely from as early as March.

The survey revealed that:

  • 94% want free tests for key workers to remain
  • 81% support maintaining masks in healthcare settings
  • 83% wish for the ONS infection prevalence survey to continue

However, the new survey results suggest that leaders from across primary and secondary care, ICSs and CCGs, strongly oppose the measures.

Earlier this week, it was reported that GPs will be expected to advise vulnerable people on managing Covid risk as the Government prepares to end all guidance for the group.

What does the NHS need from an exit plan?

Keeping masks compulsory in healthcare settings and maintaining free tests are among the key requirements that the Confederation said should be included in the Covid exit strategy.

NHS staff have reported that even with triple vaccination, staff and patients are getting ‘very ill’ in some circumstances.

The NHS Confederation said: ‘Testing is not only a reasonable precaution but means that providers can continue to fulfil their statutory health and safety duties for infection disease control. Therefore, taking a different approach for health and care staff makes sense.’

It added that mask wearing in healthcare settings for all will ‘reinforce’ the fact that Covid-19 is still a significant risk.

Similarly, removing the requirement to self-isolate could be ‘premature’ the report said, with one-in-20 people in England estimated to have Covid-19.

It added that it does not argue for all restrictions to stay in place ‘without a deadline’, but rather that the ‘exit’ should be approached cautiously.

Staff fears confirmed

The survey results confirm many health leaders’ concerns that the exit strategy is ‘sudden’ and will be ‘driven as much by the current political pressures’, Professor Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said.

‘We do have to learn to live safely with Covid in the medium term, that does not mean pretending the threat to our health and in some cases life simply no longer exists,’ she said.

‘We should take a more gradual, phased approach to relaxing the rules and carefully watch what happens to the rates of infection – particularly in healthcare settings or other environments where people are particularly at risk.’

Meanwhile, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘A lot is at stake for the NHS’s recovery ambitions if the Government is too gung-ho in its plans for exiting the pandemic, which is why health leaders are calling for a cautious and evidence led approach. This must not be driven by political expediency.’

This comes just over a week after the Government published its NHS backlog recovery plan, which stakeholders warned must not overwhelm GPs.

Category => Covid-19

Category => News

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