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Government urged to prioritise COVID-19 tests for nurses

Latest figures show surge in staff absences in acute trusts due to the virus

Surge in staff absences as the government promised delivery of millions of lateral flow tests to pharmacies, but no guarantee nurses can access a kit

Calls are mounting for the government to ensure NHS staff are prioritised for COVID-19 tests as latest figures show a surge in absences due to the virus.

On 23 December there were 75,165 staff absences at acute trusts in England, including 27,716 COVID-19 related absences – more than double two weeks previously on 9 December when there were 13,468.

Surge in staff absences as the government promised delivery of millions of lateral flow tests to pharmacies, but no guarantee nurses can access a kit

Many NHS nurses are experiencing difficulties accessing COVID-19 tests as surge in staff absences due to the virus
Picture: Alamy

Calls are mounting for the government to ensure NHS staff are prioritised for COVID-19 tests as latest figures show a surge in absences due to the virus.

On 23 December there were 75,165 staff absences at acute trusts in England, including 27,716 COVID-19 related absences – more than double two weeks previously on 9 December when there were 13,468.

NHS staff struggling to access lateral flow test kits

The government promised millions of lateral flow test boxes would be delivered to pharmacies across the country by New Year’s Eve, but there is no guarantee that NHS staff can get a kit. In a letter to MPs, health secretary Sajid Javid said the supply of lateral flow tests was being tripled in January and February from a pre-Omicron plan of 100 million to 300 million per month.

RCN chief executive Pat Cullen said many nurses were struggling to get hold of tests, adding it was vital for staff to access them as a priority: ‘As the number of staff forced into sickness absence due to COVID-19 related reasons continues to increase, it is vital staff have access to tests to protect themselves and their patients.

‘We know, however, some staff continue to face problems accessing the tests online and would urge the government to make the tests available for nursing staff as priority, as well as ensuring there is the lab capacity for analysing tests.’

Nurses advised to test daily up to day ten if returning to work after negative test

There has been a huge surge in demand for home tests as Omicron cases rise and guidance was changed to allow people to come out of self-isolation if they received a negative lateral flow result on day six and seven.

Nurses were advised to continue to test daily up to day ten if they were returning to work after a negative lateral flow test. In a letter to NHS bosses last week, England’s chief nurse Ruth May said if nurses work with patients who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 a risk assessment should be undertaken before they return to work.

The British Medical Association and the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting also joined calls for staff to be prioritised for testing as hospital cases continue to rise.

There were 11,898 COVID-19 patients in UK hospitals as of 8am on 29 December, according to government data – an increase of 44% compared to the previous week, and the highest number since March 2.


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