Priority of lateral flow tests for healthcare staff isn’t working says BMA, and NHS services under severe threat because staff cannot access testing

by BMA media team

BMA press release.

Location: England
Last reviewed: 30 December 2021
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The BMA says the way in which key workers are supposedly being given priority for lateral flow and PCR tests isn’t working as BMA members report inability to get test kits or get a PCR test. The Association says healthcare lateral flow and PCR testing should be prioritised for key workers to protect public services whilst the current issues with supplies remain.

There are over 18,000 staff absent from acute hospital trusts in England either with Covid-19 or because they are self-isolating. This equates roughly to 465 off sick for every acute hospital trust in England. That figure is expected to already be higher and new data is due to be published later this week. The figures also don’t include GPs and their teams as patient care in general practice is also being severely disrupted alongside hospital care and services.    

The NHS is already struggling to manage patient demand and to have staff not knowing whether they can go to work because they cannot get tested is bound to make that situation even worse. All key workers, such as healthcare workers and emergency services staff must as a priority be given access to the supply of lateral flow and PCR tests, in order to prevent staff from being away from work due to the inability to demonstrate a negative test. The BMA Chair of Council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul said:

 “The Government has pledged that eight million lateral flow kits will be sent to pharmacies before New Year’s Eve – which is only 24 hours away. That’s a step in the right direction but there is no assurance that key workers will be offered them first. The BMA is urging the Government to do everything possible to ensure that enough tests are available for key workers as a priority.

 “The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has no doubt had a massive impact on demand for lateral flow test kits and PCR tests, however it is vital that the promised new supply of kits are offered to key workers such as health and social care staff as a priority. Being unable to get the tests means staff may not be legally allowed to work and at a time of acute workforce shortages and winter pressures this could be devastating for the care that can be given right across the NHS.  For example, if a key worker is isolating and needs to have a negative PCR or lateral flow test on day six and seven, and cannot get access to them, they will not be able to return to work”.

Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and 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.

 The BMA is calling for:

  • Limits to social mixing and reducing contacts between households;
  • Cancellation of large social gatherings;
  • Better protection for healthcare workers – including the clear recommendation and supply of high-grade FFP3 masks for staff coming into contact with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases, and FFP2 masks for all other patient-facing staff;
  • Mask wearing in all indoor public settings, including hospitality settings when people are not eating or drinking;
  • Reintroduction of social distancing;
  • The introduction of ventilation standards in public venues;
  • Re-introduction of universal mask wearing and social distancing in schools;
  • Negative lateral flow test results to be a requirement in Covid certification – rather than double-vaccination, given the Government’s own admission that two doses of vaccine are not enough to protect against Omicron;
  • Financial support for businesses and individuals impacted by any new measures.