Regular asymptomatic Covid-19 testing will be paused across healthcare settings and care homes in England from tomorrow (31 August), as the infection rate remains low.
The Department for Health and Social Care said healthcare workers will no longer have to test themselves for coronavirus if they don’t have symptoms, however free tests will still be provided for workers who have Covid symptoms and where there are outbreaks in high-risk settings, such as care homes.
The change covers the NHS, including independent healthcare providers that treat NHS patients; adult social care and hospice providers; prisons; homlessness settings and domestic abuse refuges.
Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said the change “reflects the fact case rates have fallen and the risk of transmission has reduced”, but the government would monitor infection rates and work with sectors to resume testing if needed.
Responding to the announcement, Patricia Marquis, director for the Royal College of Nursing in England, said it was imperative that nurses and other healthcare workers still have access to free testing and PPE to protect themselves at work.
“Nursing staff are only too aware of the terrible toll the failure to test can have on some of their most vulnerable patients in hospitals and across social care,” she said.
“Cases of Covid-19 may well be falling but this virus has still not gone away, and it is vital that there is continued vigilance to ensure patients and nursing staff are not put at risk.”
Unison head of heath, Sara Gorton, said decisions about regular testing “should be based on clinical risk and not on factors such as cost”.
“NHS staff were already alarmed that last month’s withdrawal of Covid pay and leave measures could be a backward step.
“Dispensing with testing requirements will make them even more worried about safety and the resilience of services.”
Many healthcare experts have warned that the arrival of more infectious variants and colder weather, combined with waning immunity, are likely to see the Covid-19 infection rate rise in autumn and winter.
Although there is no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive Covid-19 test, NHS guidance suggests people should try to stay home and avoid others for five days. However, a recent study by Imperial College London found that people could still be infectious five days after their symptoms begin.