Access to free Covid-19 lateral flow testing is “vital” for NHS staff according to health leaders concerned by both rising coronavirus cases and increases to the cost of living.
If NHS workers are expected to continue to be tested twice a week, they could have to pay around £50 a month for tests. NHS leaders fear the impact this will have particularly on lower paid staff, as they struggle to cope with rising energy bills and petrol prices and numerous other costs.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Health leaders are adamant that continuing to offer free testing to NHS staff is vital given that rates of coronavirus and hospital admissions are still very high and rising.
“We know that more NHS workers are again having to take time off due to Covid-19 with it accounting for 30% of all absences and so, the government cannot put its fingers in ears and pretend that the threat has gone away.”
He added that NHS staff need to be supported to understand their Covid status, stay well and keep transmission within healthcare settings to a minimum.
Covid testing for NHS staff
While new guidance for the NHS no longer asks members of the public to confirm they have a negative test before they visit patients in hospital, NHS workers are still required to report their test results twice a week. Availability permitting, NHS workers can currently obtain lateral flow tests for free online and from community pharmacies.
However, this is expected to change from 1 April as the government’s Living with Covid-19 plan brings free testing for the public to an end in England.
A month ago, the NHS was promised specific detail on the various testing protocols for patients and staff but with nine days to go until 31 March, health leaders have not received it.
The Office for National Statistics estimates that around one in 20 people in England have the virus, with the more infectious omicron sub-variant BA.2 behind most cases.
In a survey last month by the NHS Confederation, 94% of health leaders in England said that access to free Covid tests for NHS staff and other key workers should not end.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic we have done everything we can to protect people receiving care and staff.
“As set out in the Living with Covid-19 plan, from 1 April free tests will only be available for certain groups who are most at risk from the virus – we will set out more details shortly.”