Covid-19: NHS staff in isolation at home will be tested first

NHS staff who are isolating at home because somebody in their house is ill are to be tested for Covid-19 first in the hope they can return to work.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS England’s chief operating officer and Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, have written to NHS trusts to say testing capacity is “now increasing” and setting out the priorities for testing staff.

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has said roll-out of testing will begin this week after some staff were sampled on Saturday and Sunday.

The latest letter states that key NHS staff and the person in their home who is ill are first in line for testing.

It says hospitals should “start this week with those working in critical care, emergency departments and ambulance services, and any other high priority groups you determine locally.

“We will then sequentially expand to other NHS staff groups as more tests are made available to the NHS, and ultimately into other essential public services including social care.

“In the first instance, we ask that you identify those staff in these initial priority groups (including critical care, emergency departments and ambulance services) who are unable to work because of the requirement for 14-day self-isolation.

“These are staff living in a household where another individual may have Covid-19.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

“Trust chief executives tell us that, while this is the right action for staff members to have taken, it is this group that is causing the greatest degree of absenteeism, potentially for no underlying clinical reason on the part of the staff member herself/himself.

“NHS organisations will use these tests to allow key staff to return to work if the index case in their home is Covid-19 free.”

Trusts are told to identify staff or household members who need to be tested, “with a particular focus on testing the suspected coronavirus sufferer in a quarantined household which is shared with a key NHS staff member”.

Trusts should initially allocate up to 15% of daily testing capacity for this purpose, and tests should be carried out as soon after symptoms develop as possible “to maximise the accuracy of the result”.

A share of the 15% should also be made available for ambulance trusts and any other high priority groups determined locally, the letter says.