Britain’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid passes a Christmas wreath as he leaves from 10 Downing Street in cental London on December 15, 2021. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
UK health secretary Sajid Javid has urged to ensure priority for NHS workers for Covid tests or risk a “devastating” impact on patient care, The Guardian reported.
Javid conceded to MPs that the supply of lateral flow kits would have to be “constrained” over the next fortnight in light of rocketing demand, the report added.
The country recorded 189,213 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday (30), a daily record, and 332 deaths, government data showed.
Case numbers were up from the previous record of 183,037 on Wednesday (29), with infections being driven by the new Omicron variant.
According to the report, the British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors, has said that its members were reporting problems with obtaining PCR and lateral flow tests, despite healthcare workers supposedly being given priority for both.
“Being unable to get the tests means staff may not be legally allowed to work and, at a time of acute workforce shortages and winter pressures, this could be devastating for the care that can be given right across the NHS,” Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA’s chair of council, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
While the government has said Omicron may be more mild it is also more transmissible and surging infections have caused widespread disruption, with train companies cancelling services due to a lack of staff and Premier League soccer matches being called off.
Official data revealed that the number of hospital beds occupied by confirmed Covid-19 patients in English hospitals rose to 11,452. It has risen by more than 4,000 in the last week.
The data providers said the daily death figures, which at 332 were up strongly from the 57 reported on Wednesday, included a backlog of deaths from the Dec. 24-29 period that had not been recorded properly during the festive period.
The newspaper report added that demand for tests has been surging in recent days, with new infections increasing rapidly and ministers, including the prime minister, Boris Johnson, advising the public to test themselves before attending New Year’s Eve parties or meeting vulnerable relatives.
Another factor boosting demand is that the self-isolation period in England was recently cut from 10 days to seven, but only with two negative lateral flow tests.
The shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, has written to Javid calling on him to make sure healthcare workers are given priority.
“I urge you to put the key workers we have relied upon for the past two years to the front of the queue and do everything you can to prevent a staffing shortage crisis in our NHS. The government must get a grip on this crisis, bring these shortages to an end, and ensure everyone can access tests quickly and regularly,” he wrote.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson rejected the idea that healthcare workers had been unable to obtain tests, saying they had their own dedicated supply channel.
Azeem Majeed, a professor of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, said the government was “in part to blame” for the shortage of tests because of its advice to the public to test themselves before social events and outings.
“It has become very clear that there are nowhere nearly enough lateral flow tests for Covid-19 in England to allow the government’s policy of their indiscriminate use,” he said in an article in the Guardian.
The Welsh government announced on Thursday that it had lent an additional 4m lateral flow testing kits to England to help alleviate the supply squeeze across the border, bringing the total offered to 10m.
Meanwhile, the National Education Union (NEU) has called for teachers to be among the groups given priority, amid concerns about whether sufficient tests will available as the new term starts next week.
With all secondary pupils expected to be tested before they start the spring term next week, the Liberal Democrats have urged the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, to ensure every school has enough tests in place.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), which represents NHS community pharmacies in England, said some pharmacy staff were being verbally abused when stocks of lateral flow tests ran out.