NHS staff, care workers and other medical professionals are on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus, and I am in awe of their dedication, skill and professionalism. Over recent months, we have significantly increased our testing capacity in this country – we are now able to carry out more than 200,000 tests a day – which means that we can ensure all NHS and care staff are prioritised for regular testing.
The approach on the testing of NHS staff has been determined by clinical experts, including the Chief Medical Officer, and the NHS has now set out the proposal. 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 of staff. The Government is continually reviewing clinical evidence to ensure regular testing of staff without symptoms is undertaken where appropriate.
As I am sure you can understand, we are taking a targeted approach to this testing, so that it 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 offices or administrative roles where they do not come into regular contact with patients. This approach is crucial as, when prevalence of the virus is very low, the risk of misleading results is higher. This can undermine the value of testing.
To be very clear, I am not against regular testing of NHS staff. I am in favour of NHS staff testing policy as advised by the Chief Medical Officer.
The Shadow Health Secretary in his opening remarks at yesterday’s Opposition debate said Labour are calling for weekly testing of NHS staff, “if necessary”.
But “if necessary” was not in the wording of their motion, which instead called for blanket weekly testing without any qualification – proving this was nothing more than a political stunt by the Opposition.
Regular testing, including weekly testing if it is deemed necessary, is essentially current government policy and I will continue to support this clinically-informed approach.
If MPs had ignored the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and voted in favour the inflexible approach as set out in the motion, implementing it would have led to all existing testing capacity being taken up and would have meant that no-one else – including the elderly and the most vulnerable to Covid-19 – would be able to get tested. I certainly could not in good conscience support this and I am glad many of my colleagues agreed with me by also voting against the Motion. I hope this explains the situation.