The BMA is calling on the Government to not close its eyes to the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on the health service and to confirm without further delay that all NHS staff will continue to be able to access free Covid testing beyond 1 April.
Under current rules, NHS staff are required to test themselves for Covid-19 twice a week and report the results before coming into work. These tests are currently provided for free when ordered online or from community pharmacies. With little over a week to go until access to free testing is removed for the public, the Government has still not confirmed that it will continue to fund lateral flow tests for NHS staff, and made no mention of funding for testing in today's Spring budget.
The BMA is calling for the Government to provide reassurance that staff testing will remain in place and this testing will remain free for them. Anything else would amount to an effective tax on work.1 The BMA believes that it is wholly unreasonable to expect staff to cover this cost, especially at the time of a cost of living crisis.
If the requirement for regular NHS staff testing is removed, Covid-19 will be allowed to spread through healthcare settings virtually unchecked. With Covid-19 still accounting for 30% of all NHS staff absences2, the Government cannot shut its eyes and pretend the threat of Covid-19 to the health service has gone away by forgoing its primary means of monitoring the spread of the virus.
The BMA is clear that neither scenario must be allowed to happen and the Government must confirm without delay that it will continue to fund routine testing for NHS workers beyond 1 April.
Dr David Wrigley, BMA council deputy chair, said:
“It is completely unacceptable that with just over a week to go until access to free Covid tests is removed for the public in England, NHS staff still do not know whether they will be required to test themselves regularly as a condition for going to work beyond 1 April, or even if they will need to pay for regular Covid testing out of their own pocket.
“Under no circumstances must NHS staff be asked to pay for testing to go to work. People visit hospitals and surgeries to get better, not to be exposed to highly infectious viruses, and the continuation of routine testing for healthcare workers is one of the most important tools we have in protecting both staff, patients and the ability of the NHS to care for patients. The Government must confirm without delay that it will continue to prioritise the safety of patients and staff by continuing to fund routine testing for NHS workers.
“While it’s clear that we must adjust as a society to the reality of living with Covid-19, removing access to free testing will not help us to move on. With Covid-19 accounting for 30% of all NHS staff absences, the Government cannot simply shut its eyes to the impact of this virus on the health service. Removing routine testing for NHS staff would send a signal to the nation that the Government believes Covid is no longer a threat, even as many people continue to become seriously unwell with the virus and over a million people in the UK suffer from long-Covid. When NHS staff are off sick with COVID they are unable to treat their patients. Increases in the number of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in recent weeks is a clear sign the pandemic is not over and the Government must recognise this by continuing to fund routine Covid testing for all NHS staff.”
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.
- With lateral flow tests from independent retailers currently costing as much as £6 each, this could mean staff end up having to pay as much as £50 a month simply to go to work.
- NHS sickness absence rates