BMA responds to Government’s changes to Covid-19 testing for health and social care staff

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Last reviewed: 30 March 2022
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Commenting on changes to Covid-19 testing, announced by the Department for Health and Social Care, chair of BMA council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul said:

“Testing healthcare workers twice a week, whether or not they have symptoms, makes absolute sense. It is something the BMA has always argued for, and it is a relief that Ministers have abandoned plans to scrap testing for healthcare workers altogether at the end of this week. However, restricting testing to those in patient-facing roles ignores the reality of working life. 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. 

“We are also concerned that the guidance states free testing can occur when there is a ‘high prevalence’ of infection – but there is no clarity in the statement on the definition of a ‘high prevalence’. This needs to be made clear as soon as possible, given the current  high infection rates across society. Although some clinical extremely vulnerable people will have access to free testing, this does not include elderly people, and it does not include provisions for those who come into contact with vulnerable people. Providing free testing for some clinically extremely vulnerable misses the point that, in order to protect them from infection, their close contacts need to have access to tests. Removing this preventative measure takes away people’s ability to act responsibly by testing themselves before they become a close contact.

“There is no provision for free tests based on affordability and this risks creating a two-tier society between those who can afford to pay for tests, and those who cannot, once again deepening the fault lines of inequality exposed by the last two years of the pandemic.

“The Government think that by ending free testing they will save money. However, at a time when hospitalisation rates are increasing daily, with over 17,000 people in hospital today compared to 11,000 a month ago, not providing free testing for all healthcare staff – and limiting access to free testing across society – will increase the spread of infection and add further stress to the NHS. The  Government should do the right thing, making sure the funding for free testing does not come from existing NHS and social care budgets.”

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.