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If lateral flow tests were no longer free, what would it mean for nurses?

The government is under pressure to clarify when it will scale down the testing system, which would have implications for nursing staff

The government is under pressure to clarify when it will scale down the testing system, which would have implications for nursing staff

The government is reportedly looking to scrap free lateral flow tests under new plans for living with COVID-19, with only people in high-risk settings prioritised for testing.

Government ministers have been quick to deny the changes will happen any time soon, but stopped short of saying free lateral flow tests will continue to be available indefinitely.

Here we look at what could change and how it might affect nurses.

What is being said?

This weekend the Sunday Times suggested prime minister Boris Johnson could make an announcement on scaling back free tests within

The government is under pressure to clarify when it will scale down the testing system, which would have implications for nursing staff

Picture: iStock

The government is reportedly looking to scrap free lateral flow tests under new plans for living with COVID-19, with only people in high-risk settings prioritised for testing.

Government ministers have been quick to deny the changes will happen any time soon, but stopped short of saying free lateral flow tests will continue to be available indefinitely.

Here we look at what could change and how it might affect nurses.

What is being said?

This weekend the Sunday Times suggested prime minister Boris Johnson could make an announcement on scaling back free tests within weeks. Under the new system free tests would only be provided in high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools.

During a visit to a vaccination centre in Uxbridge today, Mr Johnson said the government would continue to make lateral flow tests available ‘for as long as necessary’.

A No 10 spokesperson said lateral flow tests were a ‘vital line of defence’, adding that the government’s COVID-19 autumn and winter plan had set out that ‘at a later stage, as the government’s response to the virus changes, universal free provision of these tests will end and I think that’s what the public would expect’.

Will this affect nurses?

Free tests for all are likely to come to an end at some stage in a bid to save costs as the UK learns to live with coronavirus.

Reports suggest healthcare workers, including nurses, will continue to have free access to tests as hospitals and other care settings are likely to be considered high-risk areas.

A government spokesperson told Nursing Standard: ‘Everyone can continue to get free tests and we are continuing to encourage people to use rapid tests when they need them.’

Where can nurses get lateral flow tests?

Nurses are able to order free tests from the GOV.UK website, or pick up a box at local pharmacies, but a surge in demand for tests has left many nurses struggling to get hold of them.

The government has faced calls from the RCN and other professional bodies to prioritise lateral flow tests for nurses as demand increases.

In July, NHS England issued guidance to trusts outlining that they should no longer provide lateral flow test boxes to staff and instead individuals should begin to order their tests from the GOV.UK website.

NHS England had previously said trusts and other healthcare organisations should have contingency supplies in place in ensure all staff can access lateral flow tests. Nurses are advised to contact their employer if they are struggling to get tests.

What are the current rules on testing and self-isolation?

From tomorrow – 11 January – nurses with a positive lateral flow test but no symptoms of COVID-19 will no longer have to take a PCR test and can start self-isolation straight away.

Asymptomatic staff will be able to return to work if they get negative lateral flow tests on days six and seven following their positive test.

The government is looking at whether the isolation period can safely be reduced further from seven days to five.


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