Testing NHS Staff

Column in the Barry & District News by Alun Cairns MP:

Over the last week I have seen many damaging and inaccurate claims circulating on social media in relation to testing for NHS workers. Sadly, there are online campaigners who are playing with people’s emotions in an attempt to undermine their political opponents. This is sad to see, bad for democracy and undermines our effort to fight Covid-19. I care passionately about our NHS, the invaluable service it provides us all and the staff who make it possible.

I want to use this opportunity to set the record straight and reassure readers on my position in support of our NHS workers. These campaigners are insisting that I go against the Chief Medical Officer’s advice. They claim that I have rejected testing for all NHS staff. This is not the case and the fact is that there is capacity in the UK Government’s testing for every NHS worker to be tested if they want to be. Their call would mean that an NHS administrator who is working from home would need to be tested weekly. Clearly, this is not a clinical priority according to the medics and scientists.

Firstly, let me be clear that the Chief Medical Officer and other clinical experts determine our testing approach. This includes continuing to prioritise testing of all NHS staff with symptoms, regular testing of asymptomatic staff in situations where there is an incident or outbreak and regular surveillance testing across all staff. The Government is continually reviewing clinical evidence to ensure regular testing of staff without symptoms is undertaken where appropriate.

As I’m sure that you will understand, we are taking a targeted approach, so that testing is focused on the most high-risk areas. Clinical advice is to focus intensive asymptomatic testing in those areas or settings identified to have high prevalence. Staff working with patients on wards, for example, will benefit from regular testing far more than NHS staff working in administrative roles where they do not come into regular contact with patients.

This approach makes sense and ensures that our testing capacity is used in the best possible way. Further to this, due to the UK Government’s testing capacity of 20,000 tests per day, every NHS worker that wants a test can get one.

However, it’s important to recognise that testing in Wales is devolved to the Welsh Government. Therefore, if people take issue with a targeted approach, it is only right that they raise this with their Member of the Senedd. Residents may also want to ask the Welsh Government why they test a smaller proportion of the population than other administrations across the rest of the country. I have also challenged the Welsh Government on their testing record.

I hope that this clarifies the situation and explains how the UK Government is following the expert advice on testing.