Targeted, regular and extensive coronvirus testing
I’m disappointed that misleading reporting of the Opposition Day debate on Wednesday is being used to suggest that the Government doesn’t support regular coronavirus testing for NHS staff and other key workers.
For the avoidance of doubt - I support the regular testing of NHS and social care staff, and have been consistent in this.
The UK already carries out more coronavirus tests than almost any other country in the world, with over 9 million tests carried out by the 25th of June.
This opposition motion proposed that the Government start testing every single member of the 1.2 million NHS staff in England, in addition to the 1.6 million social care staff, every week, week after week. That is 2.8 million people, or 400,000 tests per day – regardless of what these staff have been doing and who they have been seeing whether or not they have a patient facing role.
To be clear, Opposition Day motions do not change policy or the law, and even if this motion had passed, it would have had no effect at all on testing policy. It is factually wrong to say that passing this motion would have changed the way testing is carried out.
The proposed blanket approach has not been identified as offering more effective outcomes in reducing the prevalence of infection or the associated transmission rate – in fact it may even be unhelpful. Some staff, may need to be tested more than once a week and other staff may never need a test.
Clinical experts, including the Chief Medical Officer, (CMO), have set out our testing strategy, which is targeted and extensive. We currently test all NHS staff with symptoms, test those staff in situations where there is an incident or outbreak of the virus, and undertake regular surveillance testing. Should the CMO advise a change in approach then a change in approach will take place.
When the opposition were asked what evidence they had that a weekly test for every member of NHS and social care staff would offer benefit – none was provided.
Our approach is continually reviewed against the evidence – and it is completely inappropriate for our testing policy to be determined by poorly-informed proposals put forward with little detail of either efficacy, efficiency or operational practicality.
It seems clear, that this proposal was put forward as an opposition stunt to get social media headlines - not to deal with the serious situation that faces us.
The approach we are taking to testing is the one that I support. By targeting our resources most effectively we can ensure that they are focused on the most high-risk communities. Testing those staff who are working with patients on wards, for example, has greater benefit than regular testing of non-clinical NHS staff such as those working in offices or administrative roles, or even remotely, where they do not come into regular contact with patients or clinical staff.
Now is the time to come together to beat this virus; not to waste valuable time scoring party political points.
I voted for regular testing for NHS staff and to continue with an evidenced based approach to keeping staff and patients safe.
What is an Opposition Day Debate?
Parliamentary time is largely controlled by the Government whips, but time is set aside in each session for debates initiated by opposition parties, and in particular the official opposition. Importantly, the motions that are debated are non-binding.