Frontline NHS staff sceptical about plans to roll out wider coronavirus testing

NHS staff working on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic have said not enough is being done to deal with the rising numbers of workers forced to self-isolate and take time off.

Coronavirus tests for frontline workers are to be trialled in England this weekend ahead of a wider rollout, in a bid to get more healthcare staff back to work.

This comes 10 days after Wales began screening staff in a bid to help the health service cope with the outbreak.

Those working in hospitals across the UK said the move has not come quickly enough, with some wards crippled by up to a quarter of doctors and nurses off.

All the NHS staff the PA news agency spoke to asked to remain anonymous, due to fear of repercussions from their respective trusts.

One Norfolk junior doctor said she could not understand why wider testing had not been done sooner.

She said: “I’m not too optimistic. I and my colleagues don’t understand why this wasn’t done sooner – I’ve had colleagues having to take two weeks off work because they’re living with someone who has a cough and because there are no tests available, so we’ve been super short on the wards.

“If testing is readily available it would help so much with staffing issues. The hospital I’m in at the moment is quiet — the calm before the storm — but we’ve been over 100 nurses/doctors short due to the coronavirus, and with no way of knowing if it’s just a common cold or if it actually is Covid-19.”

Both she and her partner work in the NHS with him working daily on a Covid-19 ward.

She said: “The fear hasn’t completely set in yet. But to be in your 20s and to have to discuss with your partner the possibility one of you may be hospitalised and might die is completely surreal.”

A critical care nurse in Manchester said her unit has around 50 staff off, either sick or self-isolating with potential symptoms.

She has been forced to self-isolate, alongside the two other healthcare professionals she lives with, after experiencing mild symptoms a week ago.

Coronavirus
An NHS worker is tested for coronavirus at a temporary testing station in the car park of Chessington World of Adventures (Aaron Chown/PA)

She said: “I’ve called 111 yesterday and today and called the hospital I work at and our local Boots to ask about testing. 111 don’t know anything more than the news and neither does the hospital. I don’t feel optimistic at all.

“It’s very frustrating. I am trained in extracorporeal life support so would be far more use at work if I could just get a test — I feel well enough to work but feel I’ve a responsibility to keep my colleagues safe.

“There are constant pleas from management on our Facebook group asking for staff. And the NHS staff bank has 50+ shifts per day out for ICU in our trust.”

She said the normal staff ratios are usually strictly protected but have “gone out the window” due to the pandemic.

Another doctor who worked in West Africa for the government during the Ebola crises told PA they have been isolated for a full 14 days, and are set to return to front-facing clinical work on Wednesday.

They said: “All these things are positive developments, we can’t just criticise them for the sake of it, but equally, I’ve heard nothing (about testing).

“I’ve got to give them the benefit of the doubt but we all know it’s not enough, it’s not fast enough. We’re behind the curve, so to speak.”

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