All NHS staff should be tested weekly for Covid-19 as a matter of urgency, whether they have symptoms or not, MPs have said.
A Health and Social Care Committee report, released yesterday, warned staff treating patients should not be put at any ‘further unnecessary risk’ from Covid-19.
The cross-party group of MPs also warned that ‘only routine test of all healthcare staff will ensure core health and care services are returned to normal levels’, adding that around 70% of Covid-19 carriers are asymptomatic.
Without routine testing, there is a ‘significant risk’ of ‘higher levels’ of Covid-19 infections transmitted in healthcare settings during a second spike, it argued.
It continued: ‘We therefore urge the Government to set out clearly why it is yet to implement weekly testing of all NHS staff’.
It highlighted comments in July from the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, saying that if there was a ‘big surge’ of Covid-19 cases in the winter, he would likely recommend routine testing of NHS staff.
However, routine testing of asymptomatic NHS staff has not yet been introduced where the virus is already surging in the North East and the North West, perhaps due to capacity constraints.
The committee recommended that the Government should set out current testing capacity and plans to expand testing capacity by the end of October.
They also urged it to introduce a better supply of PPE, greater support for staff mental health and increased efforts to tackle racism in the NHS.
Committee chair, and former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt said: ‘Weekly testing of NHS staff has been repeatedly promised in hotspot areas – but is still not being delivered.
‘Failure to do so creates a real risk that the NHS will be forced to retreat into being a largely Covid-only service during a second spike.’
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.’
A report from the Public Accounts Committee last month warned that nursing could be heading for a ‘crisis’ with a Government that does not understand its workforce.