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Asymptomatic staff testing ‘not a priority’

Asymptomatic staff testing ‘not a priority’

Routine asymptomatic testing of healthcare staff is not part of current plans to slow the spread of Covid-19, the chief operating officer for NHS England and NHS Improvement Amanda Pritchard has said.

MPs last week called on the Government to introduce weekly testing for NHS staff, regardless of whether they showed symptoms, as part of a Health and Social Care Committee report.

However, speaking at the virtual NHS Providers annual conference today, Ms Pritchard admitted that ‘at the moment asymptomatic staff testing is not in the list of priorities’. 

Although she added that areas with local outbreaks have been ’strongly encouraged’ to extend testing ‘so there is significant asymptomatic staff testing’.

Ms Pritchard stressed that the pandemic response – including the approach to staff testing – is ‘led by’ advice from chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty.

She said: ‘At some point, [the CMO] may well recommend a move to asymptomatic staff testing, as part of the priority for testing that he would then ask us – along with partners in test and trace – to respond to.  We stand ready to respond to the CMO’s guidance on that.’

At the same conference today, NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: ‘We would be enthusiastic about [asymptomatic testing] if and when that is the clinical recommendation, and if and when the test and trace programme has got the capacity’.

Capacity would ‘largely have to be sourced out of the total testing capacity, not just the NHS labs,’ he added.

A Health and Social Care Committee report released last week warned that ‘only routine testing of all healthcare staff will ensure core health and care services are returned to normal levels’, adding that around 70% of Covid-19 carriers were asymptomatic.

It argued that there was a ‘significant risk’ of ‘higher levels’ of Covid-19 infections being transmitted in healthcare settings during a second spike, without routine testing.

At the time, RCN director of nursing, policy and public affairs Susan Masters said: ‘Unless there is a rapid expansion of testing, health and care staff in all settings must be prioritised with easy-to-access tests.

‘Nursing staff feel anxious about the months ahead, which is why it is welcome to see this report recommend further action to support their mental and physical wellbeing.’