Over 2,000 frontline NHS workers tested for coronavirus, says Government

Some 2,000 frontline NHS workers have been tested for coronavirus, Downing Street has said, as it reiterated calls for trusts to use any spare testing capacity for staff.

Around 12,750 tests can now be carried out every day but only 8,630 tests were taken on Monday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing.

And he said: “In terms of NHS frontline staff who have been tested overall, it’s now over 2,000 and staff will be getting the results fed back to them over the next few days.”

The spokesman said the Government was “very clear” that it wants more testing to be carried out.

“A clear instruction has been sent to all NHS hospital trusts that where there is capacity available it should be used on testing frontline staff and we would hope to see that happening,” he said.

NHS bosses have now been ordered to “max out” testing facilities so hospital staff are tested.

Around 1.2 million people work for NHS England in total.

In a letter to NHS trust chief executives on Wednesday, health officials said that labs should be “fully used” every day.

Spare tests can be given to hospital staff and those working in neighbouring ambulance and acute trusts, the letter adds.

PA infographic about coronavirus cases in the UK
(PA Graphics)

When this has been implemented, and extra lab volumes become available, this will be rolled out to staff in GP services, social care, mental health and community services.

It comes after reports that offers of help from some of the UK’s leading scientific institutions to boost Britain’s rate of coronavirus testing have been ignored by medical officials.

The Daily Telegraph says officials have repeatedly ignored offers from entities including Oxford University and the renowned Francis Crick Institute involving hundreds of testing machines and trained personnel.

While other nations including Germany, South Korea and Australia have already tested hundreds of thousands of their citizens, Britain has been lagging behind.

The number of daily tests fell on Tuesday to 8,240, for a total of 143,186 tests since the end of February, according to Government figures.

.@NHSProviders has released its latest response to the key coronavirus issues of the day from both @ChrisCEOHopson and @Saffron_Policy 📰 #covid_19

Read in full: https://t.co/UY9YtaDygNpic.twitter.com/YNsZhmVPd0

— NHS Providers (@NHSProviders) April 1, 2020

The paper said senior health sources had warned the window for the UK to launch a successful mass community testing programme may already have been lost.

Professor Matthew Freeman, head of Oxford’s Dunn School of Pathology, one of Britain’s leading disease research centres, told the paper his repeated offers to provide dozens of specialised machines and expert staff had been largely ignored by Public Health England (PHE).

He said his department had 119 of the crucial PCR machines, or thermal cyclers, used to identify tell-tale genetic signs of coronavirus, but health officials had accepted only one.

Hundreds of specialist workers and trained graduate students were poised to help increase testing, he added, but despite initial signs of enthusiasm he had heard nothing more from PHE.

Coronavirus
A patient Covid-19 swab being tested in a microbiology laboratory (Ben Birchall/PA)

PHE offered a defence of its response to the outbreak, with a spokesman telling the paper it had rapidly developed, validated and delivered an accurate test, which had spread to 12 different sites in England, and that this represented “the fastest deployment of a novel test to PHE and NHS labs in recent history, including in the swine flu pandemic”.

Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, CEO of NHS Providers, said everyone including the Government, central NHS leaders, procurement chain, trusts and their pathology labs are all “working very hard to expand coronavirus testing capacity as fast as possible”.

In a series of tweets, he said it is important to understand the constraints, pointing out there is a major global shortage of swabs and chemicals needed to complete tests.

“We understand that if existing NHS pathology labs had unlimited swabs and reagent there is enough test machine capacity to process c100,000 tests a day but reagent and swab shortage is currently limiting this to c13k a day,” he wrote.

Referring to the testing of NHS staff at the weekend, Mr Hopson tweeted: “Intriguing data from v small sample size … only around 15% of those in 14-day isolation tested positive so other 85% could come back to work. If anything like right, a huge opportunity.”

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