Doctors kept away from front line

by Peter Blackburn Doctors are being forced away from the front line – piling further pressure on an already stretched service – owing to lack of testing for coronavirus symptoms.
Location: UK
Published: Friday 27 March 2020
Portrait of BMA chair Chaand Nagpaul

BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul (pictured above) has written to health secretary Matt Hancock urging priority testing for healthcare workers at the NHS’s time of ‘greatest need’.

The Government has pledged to keep NHS staff safe and give ‘everything’ frontline workers need, with Mr Hancock promising to ramp up testing, but Dr Nagpaul has demanded clarity.

He said: ‘I am writing to ask you when specifically will priority testing for healthcare workers and their symptomatic household members become available? Each day that goes by is illogically perpetuating further reductions of doctors from the workforce who could be treating patients instead.’

Dr Nagpaul added: ‘Put simply, this failure to test is resulting in significant numbers of doctors off work, many unnecessarily, adding further pressure to an already stretched service. This is ironic at time when the NHS is actively recruiting retired doctors and medical student to support doctor shortages.’

Common sense

In some areas of the UK testing for healthcare workers is being carried out – with varying levels taking place in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. But in England it seems rare.

BMA council deputy chair and Morecambe Bay GP David Wrigley said health leaders in his area had decided to provide testing for staff and household members of their own accord – in a bid to get staff back on the frontline.

He said: ‘It’s very unusual really – when I mention it to colleagues around the country they are amazed. But it’s just common sense. It’s worked well. There’s a GP in my practice whose household members had symptoms and they went to get tested. The process took three days and meant they could come back to work rather than isolating for 14 days.’


Dr Wrigley added: ‘It makes a big difference – and it would make a particular difference for small practices where losing one or two doctors is catastrophic.

‘The healthcare workers are at home frustrated – they are unable to help colleagues when they are not actually necessarily unwell and many doctors don’t have NHS laptops or the ability to work remotely.’

Concluding the letter addressed to Mr Hancock, Dr Nagpaul said: ‘During your press conference to the country this week, you spoke directly to NHS staff, saying that you will “strain every sinew to get you everything you need, to keep you safe, so that you can do your job keeping all of us safe” and that is exactly what is going to be required, and more.

‘The profession deserves honesty and a precise indication, so, again, will you please set out to healthcare workers when this promised priority testing will be available for them and those they live with.’