NHS orders mass coronavirus testing of frontline workers

1 April 2020, 16:01

A cap on tests for NHS staff has now been lifted
A cap on tests for NHS staff has now been lifted. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

NHS England has written to all of its trusts ordering them to begin mass coronavirus testing for frontline staff.

The organisation sent a letter to all of its trusts and foundation trust saying the government has now lifted its 15 per cent cap on testing staff for coronavirus.

In the letter, CEOs of trusts are now being urged to "max-out" each hospital's testing capabilities from today onwards and to "industrialise" the staff swabbing process.

It reads: "Following our Sunday letter on staff testing, as lab capacity is increasing we now can and must further increase staff/index case testing.

"We want to max-out all available capacity in doing so, and so we are now removing the 15 per cent cap immediately.

"Effective today we are therefore asking chief executives of trusts that host an NHS lab doing Covid-19 testing personally to ensure that your lab's capacity is fully used each and every day."

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The order, written by the National Director of Emergency and Elective Care, Pauline Philip DBE, and the Chief Executive of Birmingham Women's and Children's NHS Foundation Trust, Sarah-Jane Marsh, suggests hospitals use "all spare testing for staff/index testing either from within" their organisations or those of "neighbouring acute and ambulance trusts."

Once implemented, and as more testing becomes available, the measure can be extended to "community, mental health and primary care services, along with social care."

The army will be used to help move the samples around the country "as quickly as possible".

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NHS England added it was "working hard to secure additional reagents (chemicals) to further increase capacity."

Footage on social media showed NHS staff queuing outside an Ikea car park in northwest London for tests. They were asked to bring their ID cards and confirmation emails.

Meanwhile, Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told LBC the Government were "trying to ramp up production of testing as quickly as we can."

He said the aim was to be able to test 25,000 people by mid-April.

But the latest Public Health England figures show that fewer than 10,000 tests per day are currently being carried out, compared to 70,000 per day in Germany.