Nurses and other healthcare workers in England will continue to receive free Covid tests, the Government has confirmed.
From tomorrow, free Covid testing will stop for the general population, but healthcare leaders have urged the Government to keep tests free for nurses and other healthcare staff.
Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said yesterday that both PCR testing and asymptomatic LFTs will continue to be free for patient-facing health and social care staff, some staff in prisons and immigration centres, and care home visitors who provide personal care.
Free symptomatic testing will also be available for people eligible for community Covid-19 treatments because they are at a higher risk of severe illness, and hospital patients where a PCR test is required for their care or to survey new variants.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) also said updated ‘Living with Covid’ guidance will be published on 1 April, as part of a transition towards treating Covid ‘like other respiratory illnesses’.
While Covid infections and hospitalisations have risen in recent weeks, ‘over 55% of those in hospital that have tested positive are not there with Covid-19 as their primary diagnosis,’ it claimed.
Mr Javid said: ‘Thanks to our plan to tackle Covid we are leading the way in learning to live with the virus. We have made enormous progress but will keep the ability to respond to future threats including potential variants.
‘Vaccines remain our best defence and we are now offering spring boosters to the elderly, care home residents and the most vulnerable – please come forward to protect yourself, your family, and your community.’
Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: ‘As we learn to live with Covid, we are focusing our testing provision on those at higher risk of serious outcomes from the virus, while encouraging people to keep following simple steps to help keep themselves and others safe.
‘The pandemic is not over and how the virus will develop over time remains uncertain.’
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: ‘With just days to go before the end of free, universal testing for Covid-19, trust leaders will welcome confirmation from the secretary of state for health and social care today that NHS staff and vulnerable patients will have ongoing access to testing.
‘Rising Covid cases are putting increased pressure on NHS services, which also face high staff absence rates. This is having a knock-on impact on how fast trusts can deliver backlog recovery. So while this decision has come late in the day, it is the right one.’
The DHSC said it is stockpiling LFTs in case of a new variant of concern, or further outbreak, emerging.