Tories wasting what tests are available by ignoring calls from front-line staff to test even asymptomatic staff and that this is more important than testing critically-ill patients
The government is starting this weekend to test front-line NHS staff after weeks of desperate calls from those in the firing line of the coronavirus to do so – and is squandering its testing capacity by ignoring the advice of medics on who should be tested. Until now, hospitals have been told not to test staff.
But the numbers to be tested are tiny – and the tests will be carried out on the wrong people.
The programme will test only NHS staff who are showing symptoms of the virus or are living with people who are showing symptoms – and testing of seriously-ill patients will continue, meaning that only a fraction of the small testing capacity will be available for NHS staff.
Michael Gove said on Friday that ‘hundreds’ of tests would be made available for testing staff this weekend. The English NHS has around 640,000 clinical staff, according to the latest NHS England figures.
But senior medics and public health experts slammed the squandering of testing capacity even before the government started its latest misdirected and woefully under-resourced programme – saying that staff and patients with symptoms must be assumed to have the virus when there are not enough tests to go round – because the biggest risk to staff and patients is infection spread from staff who do not yet have symptoms.
One expert said last weekend:
This isn’t just about the people who come in showing coronavirus symptoms. Any patient coming in, for example to A&E, could be infected and not know it – and pass it onto the staff they interact with. Or the doctor or nurse treating them could have it and pass it onto patients.
It’s an absolute nightmare and the government is showing little or no sign of doing anything meaningful about it.
Another said the UK’s tactic of testing only admitted sufferers was a complete misdirection of resources:
50 to 75% of those infected are asymptomatic, but they are a formidable source of contagion…
…it is unnecessary to swab symptomatic patients, since they should automatically be isolated, and treated as required.
What [testing] capacity the UK has should be being used to make sure that front-line staff who have to deal with the infirm and elderly have regular tests so that they can know as far as possible that they are not spreading the disease to vulnerable groups.
The current UK strategy is completely at odds with this, whilst posing as based on “scientific” advice. Basically the government is deceiving the public by not admitting that their failing strategy that it is adopting, far from being the result of expert advice, is due to its own ill-preparedness.
As a result, the NHS will be overwhelmed with cases needing respiratory support, a significant percentage of whom will have acquired the infection from health or social care staff.
The government’s complete incompetence in not building up testing capacity before the catastrophe struck has meant that the UK still does not have the ability to perform even the 10,000 tests a day that Boris Johnson claimed were being done ten days ago. The NHS hopes to have that number in place by the end of March.
But even the 25,000 tests a day the government is targeting is utterly inadequate for the many hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses and other front-line staff pouring heart and soul into the battle for the lives and health of coronavirus victims.
Those heroes need to be tested regularly to ensure their health – and to stop them inadvertently infecting those they treat.
When the testing capacity is so limited, those who are showing symptoms – patients and staff alike – must be assumed to have the disease and isolated and cared for accordingly.
To test them is to waste a limited resource when the biggest danger that is not being checked, let alone controlled, is the spread of the virus by people not yet showing symptoms.
Yet again the Tories are doing far too little, far too late – and then doing exactly the wrong thing in the hope of looking like they are doing something without putting in the effort and resources needed to tackle the actual problem.
And this reckless decision to ignore medical experts for the sake of appearances will directly cost lives.
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