Free Covid Tests Must Continue for NHS Staff, Warn Health Leaders

Concerns are growing among NHS leaders that in a matter of days their frontline staff could be made to pay for their own Covid-19 tests so that they can continue working and caring for their patients.

This comes as cases of coronavirus in England are rising again and as the country faces a massive increase in the cost of living.

If NHS staff are still expected to be tested twice a week, they could end up having to pay around £50 a month for tests. This will be on top of rising energy bills, petrol prices and other costs. NHS leaders fear the impact this will have on lower paid staff, in particular.

While updated guidance issued earlier this month for the NHS no longer asks members of the public to confirm they have a negative test before they visit patients in hospitals and other inpatient settings, NHS workers are still required to report their test results twice a week. They can get their lateral flow tests for free online and from community pharmacies.

However, this is expected to change from 1 April as the Government’s ‘Living with Covid-19’ plan will bring an end to free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public in England.

A month ago, the NHS was promised “specific detail on the various testing protocols for patients and staff” but with 10 days to go until the end of March, leaders still do not have this.

Lateral flow tests could cost staff as much as £6 each from some retailers. If the twice-weekly testing requirement continues, this could see staff having to pay around £50 a month.

The NHS Confederation is calling for clarity from the Government on the testing requirements for NHS staff to be made available without delay and for access to free testing to continue, particularly for staff in patient-facing roles.

In a recent survey, 94% of health leaders in England said that access to free Covid-19 tests for NHS staff and other key workers should not end.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:

“Health leaders are adamant that continuing to offer free testing to NHS staff is vital given that rates of coronavirus and hospital admissions are still very high and rising. 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. Given the huge expectations placed on the NHS to recover its services while contending with significant vacancies, staff need to be supported to understand their Covid status, stay well and keep transmission within healthcare settings to a minimum.”

The call follows news that Covid-related hospital admissions are back to the levels last seen in mid-January, rising by 24% in the last week and by 80% in the last 25 days.

Also, the ONS estimates that around 1 in 20 people in England are believed to have the virus, with an easily spread subvariant of omicron (BA.2) causing most cases.

 

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