Healthcare leaders have urged the Government for urgent clarification over Covid-19 testing for nurses and other NHS staff after universal free provision of tests ends in England next week.
The Government has not yet said whether it will continue to fund free tests for nurses beyond 1 April when free testing ends for all but the most vulnerable as part of the Government’s ‘Living with Covid-19′ plan.
But Pat Cullen, RCN chief executive, said nursing staff ‘must not be left out of pocket when protecting themselves and their patients’ by being required to pay for tests.
She continued: ‘Increases in Covid-19 infection amongst health and care staff, in the community as well as in hospital are a clear sign the pandemic is not over.
‘Nursing staff must have access to free testing as well as continued access to the highest grade PPE…. Staff who test positive must not be asked to come back to work whilst still infectious or unwell.’
‘Covid tests could cost nurses £50 a month’
It comes as the NHS Confederation warned that continued testing of NHS staff at their own expense would cost each worker £50 a month with lateral flow tests costing as much as £6 from some retailers, hitting lower-paid staff hardest.
A month ago, the NHS was promised ‘specific detail on the various testing protocols for patients and staff’ but this has still not been provided, it added.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of NHS Confederation, said: ‘We know that more NHS workers are again having to take time off due to Covid-19 with it accounting for 30% of all absences and so, the Government cannot put its fingers in ears and pretend that the threat has gone away.
‘In the face of a cost-of-living crisis, many staff will simply not be able to afford to regularly buy their tests,’ he added.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Nursing in Practice’s sister publication Pulse: ‘Throughout the pandemic we have done everything we can to protect people receiving care and staff.
‘As set out in the Living with Covid-19 plan, from 1 April free tests will only be available for certain groups who are most at risk from the virus – we will set out more details shortly.’
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak made no mention of free testing for nurses in his spring statement yesterday, where he announced a 5p cut in fuel duty that RCN said is ‘not enough’ to stop nurses having to contribute to the running costs of their car at work.