Thousands of GPs and nurses are being forced to stay off work as they cannot get tested for COVID-19, the professional body for general practitioners has said.
The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has written to Dido Harding, head of the government’s £10bn test-and-trace programme, warning that staff absences could hit the flu vaccination drive that ministers say is vital to stop the NHS becoming overwhelmed this winter.
Patient care will suffer because family doctors and practice nurses are having to isolate at home at the same time as the reopening of schools, universities and some workplaces – which is leading to more people seeking an appointment – it says.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP, told Sky News that test and trace logistics and capacity must “urgently improve” in order to help tackle COVID-19.
“GPs tell us that they are struggling to access tests for themselves and their teams. We simply cannot afford to have practice staff having to isolate, taking them out of frontline clinical practice,” he said.
“A lack of access to testing is already impacting on capacity in general practice, as staff isolate whilst awaiting results, and the care that can be delivered to patients.
“We also want to see GPs having access to tests for patients who have a clinical need. Currently the only alternative is to refer them to Test and Trace.
The disclosure around medical workers who are unable to get a test follows weeks of mounting concern over the number of teachers, parents of school-age children and NHS staff who have encountered problems – with some being told to go hundreds of miles to be checked.
Professor Marshall added: “If patients with symptoms of COVID-19 or people at risk of infection start attending GP appointments as a first port of call, it risks compromising infection control measures that have been put in place and has the potential to further spread the virus.
“Without sufficient capacity and resources, it would also risk overloading general practice, which is already pressurised with consultation rates back to pre-pandemic levels and GPs and our teams preparing to deliver the largest ever flu vaccination programme and for a potential second wave.”
The college’s letter comes as official figures showed that the number of tests processed in the UK fell for three days in a row between Sunday and Tuesday, culminating in just 188,865 on Tuesday – about 35,000 below the recent average and the lowest number for 13 days.
Boris Johnson has pledged to dramatically increase capacity so that 500,000 tests a day can be carried out by the end of October in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus by identifying outbreaks and isolating those infected.
© 2020 Sky UK
News – Coronavirus test shortage forcing thousands of GPs and nurses to stay off work, government told