The Government must drastically improve access to, and availability of, Covid-19 testing facilities for healthcare workers, says the BMA.
The doctors’ union says a major reason for the uptake not being as good as it could be, is the fact that sites are few and far between, with poor guidance about how to use them and often require staff to make round trips of more than a hundred miles.
The BMA has estimated that at current rates around 6-7,000 NHS staff and family members are being tested per day, far below what is needed to make substantial progress in getting large numbers of healthcare workers back to work.
The BMA has estimated that across England, Scotland, and Wales nearly 100,000 healthcare workers are currently self-isolating due to Covid-19, with many not knowing if they have the virus and therefore, not able to go to work.
But with too few sites, often requiring workers to make more than a one hundred mile round trip, and an often confusing appointment system, the BMA says the process and availability of testing needs to be dramatically improved if testing is to have any chance of success.
The BMA says the Government needs to increase the number of sites and make them as easy to get to as possible because the Government’s figures on NHS staff absence due to coronavirus indicate that if access was no barrier, the NHS could potentially free up tens of thousands to return to work.
Healthcare workers also currently have to be invited by their employer to have testing done – they cannot go themselves without permission, potentially further delaying the process. More than 70 doctors have this week contacted the BMA expressing frustration at their inability to get an appointment.
Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, the BMA board of science chair said:
'When a healthcare worker feels unwell or is having to self-isolate because they’re living with others who are sick or have symptoms, expecting them to make a long round trip to get tested is a very big ask. They may not even have a car but if they do, leaving behind unwell family members for several hours to get a test, is stressful. The Government says there has been a lack of demand for staff testing, but this is completely opposite to what doctors across the country are telling us on a daily basis.
'There is little clarity at local and regional levels for staff and their family members about how to get tested and we need to see better coordination of testing and far greater availability if we want to see any real chance of confidently and safely returning thousands of staff back to front line care.
'Testing is absolutely crucial to understanding and bringing this epidemic under control. We need to understand the magnitude of how many people are infected and to have a widescale and effective testing programme that reaches as many people as possible is vital to that understanding.'
Dr Sarah Hallett, a junior doctor in London and chair of the BMA Junior Doctors’ Committee, said:
'I completely understand and support the self-isolating and social distancing measures announced by the Government; it is really important the public is aware that if they develop a cough or a fever that they need to self-isolate for seven days (and 14 days for their household members).
'The frustration for health workers though is that if we had easier access to testing, it might get us back to working with our patients quicker. I developed a dry cough a few weeks ago, and therefore had to self-isolate. My flatmates are also doctors, working in A&E and general practice, and so they had to stay off for 14 days despite never showing any symptoms themselves.
'The staffing shortages are already considerable; all of us would rather be helping with this crisis than stuck at home. Access to testing could put doctors back on the NHS frontline, supporting their colleagues, and looking after patients during this national crisis.'
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union 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.
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