Covid testing shortage could have a ‘devastating’ impact on patient care, doctors warn as Sajid Javid faces calls to prioritise lateral flow access to NHS workers with another FORTNIGHT of supply issues expected
Britain’s shortage of Covid swabs could have a ‘devastating’ impact on patient care in hospitals, leading doctors have warned.
Many Britons are struggling to get their hands on lateral flow tests — which ran out again yesterday — with supply issues expected to continue for another fortnight.
The problems are also affecting the system for supplying swabs to NHS staff, which the chairman of the British Medical Association said was ‘not working’.
Firing a broadside at the Government, Dr Chaand Nagpul said many doctors and nurses were unable to work becuase they could not get tested ‘at a time of acute workforce shortages and winter pressures’.
He called on ministers to prioritise NHS employees for the swabs.
Demand for Covid swabs has spiralled amid record-breaking cases, calls to take swabs before heading out for New Year’s Eve and after the Government changed self-isolation rules to allow Britons to leave three days early if they test negative on days six and seven.
Sajid Javid warned in a letter to MPs that supplies would likely be ‘constrained’ for another fortnight because of the ‘huge demand’ for tests.
The Health Secretary added that vulnerable patients, such as care home residents and staff, would be prioritised for deliveries of lateral flow tests. He also said Britain had trebled its order for lateral flow tests in January and February to keep up with demand.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the head of the British Medical Association, has warned that NHS employees are not able to get hold of lateral flow tests. Health Secretary Sajid Javid (right) says there could be another two weeks of disruption to testing supply
Dr Nagpul said: ‘Being unable to get the tests means staff may not be legally allowed to work and at a time of acute workforce shortages and winter pressures this could be devastating for the care that can be given right across the NHS.
‘For example, if a key worker is isolating and needs to have a negative PCR or lateral flow test on day six and seven, and cannot get access to them, they will not be able to return to work.’
He added: ‘The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has no doubt had a massive impact on demand for lateral flow test kits and PCR tests, however it is vital that the promised new supply of kits are offered to key workers such as health and social care staff as a priority.’
Council hands out lateral flow tests outside Nando’s
A council yesterday took matters into its own hands and dished out lateral flow tests outside a Nando’s.
The national system for supplying Covid swabs has faced shortages for weeks — with many Britons left unable to get the swabs.
But in Slough residents were able to get swabs yesterday thanks to their local authority.
The council has signed a deal with private testing provider Solutions 4 Health to get tests to people who do not have symptoms of the virus.
A van from the company was pictured outside a Nando’s in the city centre yesterday dishing out the swabs.
It gave out packs of seven and 20 swabs to residents, with some reportedly walking away with shopping bags full of the tests.
The council first signed a Covid testing deal with Solutions 4 Health in January.
Hospitals across the country are currently battling against a shortage of workers, with thousands self-isolating because of the virus.
NHS England figures published today showed 70,762 NHS employees were absent from work over the week to December 26, a 9.2 per cent increase from the previous seven-day spell.
This included 24,632 NHS staff at hospital trusts were absent due to Covid reasons on December 26, up 31 per cent from 18,829 a week earlier and nearly double the number at the start of the month (12,508).
Across hospital trusts, at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals trust, 1,144 staff were absent for Covid-19 reasons on December 26, up from 699 previously, while Manchester University trust reported 835 absences, up from 548.
Other trusts with steep jumps in coronavirus-related absences include University Hospitals of Leicester (522 on December 26, up from 356 a week earlier), Nottingham University (791, up from 658) and Leeds Teaching Hospitals (502, up from 364).
The rising absences are against a backdrop of increasing Covid patient numbers in hospitals, which yesterday broke through 11,000 in England for the first time since early February.
Mr Javid told MPs that the huge demand for swabs would see supplies likely limited over the next two weeks.
He wrote: ‘In light of the huge demand for LFDs seen over the last three weeks, we expect to need to constrain the system at certain points over the next two weeks to manage supply over the course of each day, with new tranches of supply released regularly throughout each day.’
Nurses, lorry drivers and Government officials could all be prioritised for Covid swabs in the New Year under plans to prevent the return to work being thrown into chaos.
Ministers are also considering whether to free-up capacity by dropping the requirement for people who get a positive lateral flow test to also get a PCR.
Around a million lateral flow tests are currently being carried out every day in England, official figures showed.
And more than 600,000 PCR swabs are also being analysed every 24 hours.
This compares with a supply of about 900,000 lateral flows and up to 700,000 PCRs every day.
Professor Azeem Majeed, a primary care and public health expert at Imperial College London, told The Guardian that the Government was ‘in part to blame’ for the shortage of tests.
He said: ‘It has become very clear that there are nowhere near enough lateral flow tests for Covid in England to allow the Government’s policy of their indiscriminate use.’
He called on ministers to publish ‘clear guidance… on what groups should be prioritised for testing and how frequently they should test’.
Daily Covid admission in London have risen again, with 456 newly-infected patients placed on wards on December 28. This is the second day in a row admissions been above the crucial 400-a-day threshold that Government advisers warned could trigger nationwide intervention