DR MAX PEMBERTON: We must stop testing those without Covid symptoms

People have stopped routinely screening for Covid because they can’t face the subsequent disruption of a positive result… We must stop testing those without any Covid symptoms, writes DR MAX PEMBERTON

When the first Covid tests arrived early in the pandemic, they were hailed as a life-saver. 

In the absence of vaccines and effective treatments, it was imperative to know who had the virus – and urge them not to infect others.

But two years on, the appeal of these tests has soured. Now my friends, colleagues and patients are increasingly asking me: Why on earth are we testing so much?

Britain seems addicted to the tests. We have conducted far more than any other country per head of population: More than double the French or Americans and more than five times the Germans.

When the first Covid tests arrived early in the pandemic, they were hailed as a life-saver. In the absence of vaccines and effective treatments, it was imperative to know who had the virus ¿ and urge them not to infect others. But two years on, the appeal of these tests has soured

When the first Covid tests arrived early in the pandemic, they were hailed as a life-saver. In the absence of vaccines and effective treatments, it was imperative to know who had the virus – and urge them not to infect others. But two years on, the appeal of these tests has soured

The craze for testing has now inevitably resulted in them running out in many areas, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid warning there will be 'no quick fix' to the shortage

The craze for testing has now inevitably resulted in them running out in many areas, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid warning there will be ‘no quick fix’ to the shortage

Somehow the nation has sleepwalked into a gigantic, expensive mass-screening programme – without properly considering whether it is justified or when it might stop. 

The craze for testing has now inevitably resulted in them running out in many areas, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid warning there will be ‘no quick fix’ to the shortage.

People are entitled to ask: If testing is so crucial, why on earth hasn’t the Government done a better job of securing supplies?

More than half the country is now triple-jabbed and the Omicron variant, as Boris Johnson rightly said this week, is ‘obviously milder’ than its predecessors. And yet the frantic testing goes on.

To be clear: A positive test can completely upend people’s lives and livelihoods. 

Currently, the rules state that if your test is positive, you have to self-isolate for seven days – though the NHS’s website yesterday was still wrongly claiming it was ten.

For those with comfortable jobs and big houses this may be no great ordeal. 

But for millions of people on low and precarious incomes, self-isolation might be the final nudge that puts you on the breadline.

As a result, I’m increasingly hearing that people have stopped routinely testing because they can’t face the idea of a positive result and the subsequent disruption – especially if they don’t have symptoms. 

This situation is especially urgent given the huge staffing pressures on the NHS. 

On December 19, for example, almost 19,000 NHS employees were off work after testing positive.

And yesterday, terrifyingly, it was reported that a third of London fire engines were unavailable this week due to firefighters isolating or testing positive. 

The consequences if – God forbid – another Grenfell Tower disaster were to happen do not bear thinking about.

Of course, anyone who does test positive and has symptoms should do the right thing and self-isolate. 

But I am not alone in believing that, from now on, only those with symptoms should test. The rest should be getting on with their lives.

More than half the country is now triple-jabbed and the Omicron variant, as Boris Johnson rightly said this week, is 'obviously milder' than its predecessors. And yet the frantic testing goes on

More than half the country is now triple-jabbed and the Omicron variant, as Boris Johnson rightly said this week, is ‘obviously milder’ than its predecessors. And yet the frantic testing goes on

Anecdotally, I have heard of many people doing just that in the past couple of weeks: Avoided tests lest a positive result ruin a second family Christmas. 

And many are taking it even further than that. I know of colleagues in the medical profession who have already decided to stop testing under all circumstances.

Just before Christmas, an entire week passed in which not a single junior doctor was working on the ward where I practise because all had either tested positive, lived with someone with Omicron or were waiting for a PCR test result.

None of these doctors, I stress, was actually ill: They were just sitting at home. But you can’t do much as a ward doctor if you’re not on the ward.

In my view, we need to start living with this virus in the same way we do with flu. 

The alternative is unthinkable: That we will spend the rest of our lives testing like crazy, locking down when cases spike, destroying the economy and making life generally impossible.

Let’s end this tyranny of testing before it’s too late.








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