COVID-19: RCN survey finds lack of access to testing at height of pandemic

Majority of nurse respondents not offered testing, with non-NHS staff worst off

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Healthcare staff working outside the NHS or on temporary contracts have been less able to access COVID-19 tests, a survey suggests.

The RCN found that 76% of the 22,043 respondents to its UK-wide membership survey had not been offered a test. Of those, 44% said they did not know how to access testing.

RCN raises concerns over access to testing for all healthcare staff

Of the 5,300 respondents who work outside the NHS, 79% said they had not been offered a test, which is slightly higher than the average.

Among the minority of survey respondents who had been offered testing, 91% of those working in NHS organisations reported being able to access it, whereas this figure was 85% for non-NHS staff.

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said it is concerning that staff are struggling to access COVID-19 testing. ‘All health and care staff must be able to access testing so they can work safely and without worry,’ she said.

Eligibility for testing extended to all essential workers and over-65s

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said tests are now offered to all essential workers, including those in the NHS and social care, as well as anyone in England aged 65 or over who has symptoms.

The RCN survey was carried out from 24-28 April, before the government changed the eligibility criteria for COVID-19 testing.

The survey’s results come after the new daily figure announced on 3 May showed that COVID-19 test numbers had fallen below 80,000.

Official figures found to include home tests that may not have been completed

On 1 May, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced that the government's target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April had been met, with more than 122,000 tests recorded on the last day of the month.

The government's calculations have since been challenged. The Health Service Journal reported that about a third (40,369) of the 122,000 tests had not been completed but had simply been sent out to centres or people’s homes.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has criticised the government for including tests mailed to homes, which might never be used.

‘Many would have expected the 100,000 promise to have been met by actually carrying out testing, not simply because 39,000 kits had been mailed out,’ he said.

‘Ministers promised transparency – the public and NHS staff deserve clarity.’

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