Coronavirus: UK’s testing strategy ‘undermining confidence’ of NHS staff and patients, warn doctors

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Matt Hancock has been warned by a leader of Britain’s family doctors that the government’s coronavirus testing strategy is “undermining the confidence” of medical professionals and patients in the process and its results.

In a letter to the health secretary, the chair of the Royal College of GPs urged the government to shift away from “arbitrary” numbers and targets, such as the goal of 200,000 daily tests by the end of May set by prime minister Boris Johnson earlier this month, in favour of widening access to testing for health workers and the public.

Prof Martin Marshall said GPs are concerned over arrangements which see tests being transported over long distances to pathology labs with lengthy waiting times for results and questions around their accuracy.

And he warned of a “crisis of the infection rate in care homes”, calling out an “absence of a clear testing strategy and delays in social care planning” that has left patients in care homes “vulnerable” during the pandemic.

The College is calling for a joined-up strategy across the health, social and community care systems with a focus on making sure that “the right people are tested at the right time” to protect vulnerable patients, key workers and the wider population.

This would involve:

– Testing kits being made readily available for all patients with symptoms.

– Pathology labs updating GP records with test results to assist tracing of Covid-19 positive cases.

– GPs being given clear guidance on how to assist patients with access to tests.

Prof Marshall told the health secretary: “GPs and their teams are doing their best to continue to give care, but it is essential that any forthcoming approach enables them to have access to testing to protect their patients.

“I am sure you will agree that now is the time to move beyond an arbitrary focus on numbers and targets and ensure that our loved ones in vulnerable settings are given particular protection.

“Whilst there have been clear strides to improve testing capacity, and whilst we recognise the work of government and a range of stakeholders, we do not believe that there is sufficient clarity on a joined-up comprehensive testing strategy to prevent a second wave of infections and to secure the overall health of the population.

“As we ease lockdown over the coming weeks and months it is essential that the profession and patients have full confidence in the approach to test, track and trace.”

Prof Marshall wrote: “Any testing strategy should support the existing national effort to contain the virus, support key workers and prevent a second wave of infection, to keep the entire UK population safe and healthy.

“It therefore must continue to ensure that the right people are tested at the right time to protect key workers and vulnerable patients. It should help us understand the virus and its spread better through test, track and trace. It should deliver timely results that patients and healthcare professionals can have confidence in.

“It is crucial that healthcare professionals have adequate guidance and transparent communication from government about testing so that they can interpret and act upon results… [and that] any testing strategy must commit to building confidence in the process, including a commitment to improving the sensitivity and specificity of the tests.”

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