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Voluntary weekly Covid tests for all practice staff ‘sensible’, says RCGP

by Emma Wilkinson
7 September 2020

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The Royal College of GPs says it supports the idea of weekly Covid-19 testing for GPs and other practice staff as long as there are detailed plans around how it would work. 

It comes as former health minister Jeremy Hunt, who is now chair of the health select committee, has called for expanded testing to include weekly checks for all NHS staff and secondary school teachers.

The Government last week announced a new £500m investment to scale up testing capacity, trial new rapid testing methods and assess the impact of regular population testing. Other trials have investigated the regular testing of NHS staff including GPs.

RCGP honorary secretary Dr Jonathan Leach said: ‘GPs and our teams are committed to delivering care to patients despite the challenging circumstances presented by the Covid pandemic, but they must be well enough to do so, and testing of frontline staff makes that possible.

‘As such, weekly testing of NHS staff on a voluntary basis seems sensible – we know that testing reduces doubt and anxiety for frontline healthcare professionals, as well as reassurance for patients who may be, understandably, worried about the current situation.’

He added that access to testing had also allowed GPs and practice staff to find out if they have Covid and return to work sooner.

But he stressed there could be unintended consequences and practical implications of weekly testing.

He said: ‘We would like to see strong, unambiguous guidance from NHS England, outlining how workforce capacity would be protected alongside this initiative.

‘We’d also like to see detailed plans on how these tests would be carried out in practice and assurance from the government that there is capacity to fulfil this initiative with results being made available swiftly.’

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.

A 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’.

Commenting on the new investment to expand testing, health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘We need to use every new innovation at our disposal to expand the use of testing, and build the mass testing capability that can help suppress the virus and enable more of the things that make life worth living.

‘We are backing innovative new tests that are fast, accurate and easier to use and will maximise the impact and scale of testing, helping us to get back to a more normal way of life.’

A version of this story first appeared in our sister title Pulse.