NHS staff testing

The UK is gradually increasing its daily capacity to test for coronavirus. The government has announced its plan to substantially increase the rate of testing from around 10,000 per day at the beginning of April to 100,000 per day by the end of the month. Government has responded to calls from across the NHS to prioritise testing of NHS staff within these efforts, removing the limit on the proportion of tests which can be used on staff. Trusts are now able to make local decisions on who to test, while work is also ongoing nationally to increase the availability of testing equipment and facilities through a new partnership with industry and universities:

  • dozens of universities, research institutes and companies across Britain are lending their testing equipment to 3 new hub laboratories, with NHS staff and their families first in line to benefit
  • Professor John Newton the Director of Health Improvement, Public Health England, has been appointed to coordinate a national effort with global manufacturers encouraged to expand their manufacturing capacity here in the UK
  • work is also underway to source more of the kits needed to take samples from people, while also carrying out greater blood testing and surveillance to learn more about immunity to, and spread of the virus - NHS Blood and Transplant is now leading a major new programme to collect convalescent plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19
  • enhanced testing should help to enable NHS staff to discover whether or not they have contracted the virus from isolating family or other household members, and ultimately should help to reduce sickness absence rates and staff anxiety
  • very early evidence suggests a small proportion (around 15%) of staff who are isolating for these reasons have contracted the virus.

While trusts across the country now have freedom to ramp up their testing of staff, there are significant constraints on swabs, reagents and the test kits that are required to test at scale.

In some places, this is severely limiting the ability of trusts to complete the number of tests they would otherwise have the capacity for. In other areas, trusts have made progress, including at Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust where 1,000 staff were tested within three days, with early results enabling 157 staff in critical roles to return to work and relieve pressure on their teams.