MPs have said there is a ‘compelling case’ for weekly testing of NHS staff to stop the health service becoming a Covid-only service during the second wave of the pandemic.
A report from the Parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee has said urgent action is needed to assess and tackle a backlog of appointments, especially for cancer treatments, mental health services, dentistry, GP services and elective surgery.
The committee added there was “a compelling case has been made for the nationwide routine testing of all NHS staff”, with the MPs adding that “they are yet to understand why it cannot be introduced”.
Committee chair, and former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt praised “the heroic contribution made by front line NHS and care staff” during the pandemic.
But he pointed out that managing the pandemic had massively affected normal NHS services, something that could have been mitigated by earlier infection control measures in hospitals and clearer communication to patients whose care was disrupted.
“Weekly testing of NHS staff has been repeatedly promised in hotspot areas – but is still not being delivered. Failure to do so creates a real risk that the NHS will be forced to retreat into being a largely Covid-only service during a second spike,” he added.
The report also recommended that further action needed to be taken to support the mental and physical wellbeing of NHS workers.
The report was welcomed by the Royal College of Nursing. RCN director of nursing, policy and public affairs Susan Masters said: “We hear from nurses at the forefront of health and care services that, even though much has improved, they are concerned about the level of protection they’ll have this winter.
“Equally, as this report makes clear, the lack of testing is a key barrier to safe and effective care. Unless there is a rapid expansion of testing, health and care staff in all settings must be prioritised with easy-to-access tests.
“Health and care staff at all levels must have access to comprehensive psychological support services in which they can have confidence,” she added.