NHS services are being placed in jeopardy as NHS staff are being forced to self-isolate as they cannot access coronavirus tests for themselves or their families.
NHS providers who represent NHS trust leaders voiced their fears over the weekend, that hospitals in Bristol, Leeds and London lacked tests for their staff.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said, “It’s clear that there are current capacity problems with the testing regime.
“Trust leaders from Bristol, Leeds and London have all raised concerns over the weekend about the lack of testing availability leading to greater levels of staff absence.
“It’s not just access for tests for staff members themselves, it’s also access for their family members as NHS workers have to self-isolate if their family members are unable to confirm if they have Covid-19 or not.
“The problem is that NHS trusts are working in the dark – they don’t know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests.
“They need to know all this information so that they can plan accordingly.
“For example, trusts need to know if they should try to create or re-establish their own testing facilities as quickly as possible.”
He added that there are further concerns over patients being tested prior to treatment.
“We’re aware of a small number of examples of patients being unable to get such tests, which cuts across trusts’ ability to restore services in the way they have been asked to do,” he said.
“We are concerned, for example, that patients waiting for hospital treatment can no longer highlight this fact when applying online to access a test.
“We need to prioritise tests for healthcare workers and their families and patients coming in for treatment, many of whom have already waited longer than normal.
“Our recent survey showed how concerned trust leaders were about the impact of inadequate testing on their ability to restore services and it’s disappointing that no detailed information on the current problems has been shared.”
He is urging the government to be “honest and open” over what is really happening.
He said, “The Government response has often been to rely on a random, impressive sounding, overall statistic – the number of tests performed or PPE (personal protective equipment) items delivered – or to set out a bold future ambition – a world class test and trace service by June, or a moonshot testing regime at some point next year,” he said.
“Both approaches ignore the operational problem at hand. Neither helps the frontline organisations that actually have to deal with the problem.”
An NHS spokeswoman said, “Hospitals continue to fully comply with recommended patient and staff testing protocols. To further support the national Test and Trace programme, NHS hospital labs have now been asked to further expand their successful, fast turnaround and highly accurate, testing capacity.”