Test all health and care workers – not just those with symptoms, says Labour

Labour has called on the government to expand the current coronavirus testing of NHS and social care staff, extending it beyond those with symptoms to all being tested once a week.

The intervention follows research by University College London Hospitals that suggests a fifth of infections among hospital patients and almost nine in ten among healthcare workers may have been caught in hospital.

The party has highlighted that the government had announced in early April that it would introduce regular testing for all “critical key workers” but a universal process for health and care workers is still yet to be implemented.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Regular testing of all NHS staff must now be an urgent priority. Weekly testing of all healthcare workers reduces the spread of the virus and helps protect NHS staff and patients.

“Eventually resetting the NHS to continue treating Covid and non-Covid patients is going to have to take priority. This should include putting in place infection control measures to make sure patients can continue to safely receive their care, and routine testing of all staff should be a part of this.”

In a statement on April 4th, the Department for Health and Social Care said: “Once widespread testing is available, we will test critical key workers regularly, to keep them safe and ensure they do not spread the virus.”

NHS England later wrote on April 29th, in a letter about the second phase of the response to Covid-19, that “increased testing capacity means that we will now be able to extend the offer of regular testing to asymptomatic staff”.

Some NHS trusts are carrying out routine testing of employees, yet it is not required by the government. The current strategy only necessitates the testing of those workers that display symptoms of the virus.

Research by Imperial College London suggested that weekly testing of health workers is “estimated to reduce their contribution to transmission by 25% to 33%, on top of reductions achieved by self-isolation following symptoms”.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine declared that “testing to include asymptomatic persons residing or working in skilled nursing facilities needs to be implemented now”.

Further research by Barts Health NHS Trust found that at the end of March, around 7% of asymptomatic healthcare workers tested positive for the virus, falling to around 1% by the end of April.

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