The BMA has written to the Chief Executive of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, asking for reassurance that Covid-19 lateral flow testing will remain free for NHS staff from April 1.1
The letter comes after the Government’s repeated failure to confirm that free testing would continue for staff from Friday, when it is currently due to end for everyone in England.
As a result, NHS staff have no idea if they will still be required to test regularly after this date as a condition for going to work, or if they will have to pay for regular testing themselves in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.
In response to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement2, which contained no mention of any funding to keep this provision available for staff, the BMA said that no longer providing free tests would not only put patients and staff at risk, but also mean losing a primary tool for monitoring the virus.
Recent data shows that Covid-19 cases are on the rise, with the ONS estimating that more than three million people currently have the virus in England. The number of people in hospital is also increasing, with 17,685 currently receiving care.
The letter, written by Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, also asks for reassurance that NHS staff who test positive for Covid will be told not to attend work, and that the Covid related sickness absence and pay will remain in place from April 1.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “Free testing is a key tool for measuring prevalence of Covid-19 among the public, as well as limiting the spread of infection, and we believe this should continue. It is particularly important to make lateral flow tests freely available for those who come into contact with people who are at highest risk from Covid-19, including the clinically vulnerable, to protect them from infection.
“Healthcare settings should be places where people feel confident that they are not at risk of infection from Covid-19. Free, routine, testing of healthcare staff will be vital to ensure we protect patients and workers as much as possible.
“Scrapping free testing would inevitably increase the spread of infection and mean more staff going off sick at a time when the NHS workforce is already severely depleted. Covid-related staff absences currently account for 30% of all NHS staff absences, and this will only get worse if free testing is removed, again threatening our ability to provide safe patient care. Even if healthcare workers are asymptomatic, the virus can still be passed on and have serious consequences for patients, especially those who are clinically vulnerable.
“The number of Covid cases has risen rapidly over the last month. We are therefore additionally concerned that removing our primary tracking tool for understanding how prevalent the disease is, and giving it free reign to spread, poses a serious risk to adding further pressures to an already overstretched health service.
“The NHS is the people who work in it and keeping them safe means keeping our patients safe. As well as free testing, the BMA has also asked NHS England for reassurance that staff who test positive for Covid will be told not to attend work, and that the Covid related sickness absence and pay will remain in place from April 1."
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.
- Read the BMA's letter to NHS England.
- The BMA called for funding for free tests for NHS staff in a submission to the Treasury ahead of the Spring Statement. Our other, wider response to the Spring Statement can be found here.