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COVID-19: shortages limit amount of testing for NHS workers

Despite removal of 15% COVID-19 testing cap, many trusts lack resources to carry out enough tests

 Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
A drive-through coronavirus testing site in a car park at Chessington World of Adventures, London. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

COVID-19 testing for NHS staff is being restricted because of equipment shortages, NHS trusts have revealed.

Despite health and social care secretary Matt Hancock removing the 15% testing limit on trusts allocating tests for staff, trusts have said shortages of swabs, reagents and testing kits have prevented staff from being tested.

Shortages need to be overcome for testing capacity to increase

One large district hospital in the Midlands reported it was only able to test three staff members per day due to a lack of swabs, NHS Providers said.

Another trust in the West Midlands said that while it had capacity to carry out up to 300 tests per day, a shortage of reagent and testing kit availability meant only 20 were carried out daily.

NHS Providers’ chief executive Chris Hopson said it was ‘striking’ how many trusts are reporting shortages.

‘But these shortages, which trusts do not control, need to be overcome if we are to see the growth in testing capacity, we are all looking for,’ he added.

Labs should be ‘fully used’ every day

On 2 April Mr Hancock said NHS staff would be able to get tested for COVID-19 ‘absolutely before the end of the month’.

‘With 5,000 tested since (staff testing) started at the weekend we've clearly made significant progress,’ he added.

In a letter to NHS trust chief executives on Wednesday, health officials said labs should be ‘fully used’ every day.

Spare tests can be given to hospital staff and those working in neighbouring ambulance and acute trusts, the letter adds.

View our COVID-19 resources centre

What tests are available and how do I get tested?

The antigen test

This test is already available and in use. It is used to tell if someone currently has the virus.

It involves a deep swab of the nose or the back of the throat. Results are in two to three days.

The antibody test

The government has said it is developing an antibody test which will be able to tell if someone has had COVID-19. The government announced that 3.5 million of these tests will be bought when it is confirmed they are accurate. The date for this role out is still to be confirmed.

This is a finger-prick test that identifies the antibodies produced to fight off an infection, indicating the tested person may have near-immunity from the disease for at least 28 days.

Where can I get the antigen test?

Trusts are advised to discuss with staff where testing will be available.

Most tests have been carried out in hospitals or in people's homes so far, with a small amount of random sampling via GP surgeries.

Other locations have been set up as mass testing sites.

Furniture giant Ikea has set up a drive-through testing centre for front-line NHS staff at its store in Wembley, north west London.

Boots is also setting up another drive-through system at its headquarters in Nottingham and more sites are being sourced around the country.

Currently, these facilities are reserved for NHS staff and by invitation only.

Nursing on the COVID-19 front line

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