Winter preparation at risk from current testing shortages

Trust leaders are concerned that current testing shortages are starting to impact on NHS service recovery and winter preparations, with the situation increasing NHS staff absences.

With the number of coronavirus cases increasing every day, the NHS is facing renewed pressure on its services while also preparing for winter and continuing to recover other services and planned activity. NHS Providers says that staff are having to self-isolate in the absence of a test for either them or their loved ones, taking valuable NHS staff away from the frontline where they are needed. If staff absences continue to increase due to a lack of testing ability, these pressures will accelerate.

NHS Providers also warns that trust leaders are particularly concerned about the lack of appropriate detailed operational information on the shortages, such as how big they are and how long they will last, that is preventing them from managing this problem effectively.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of the organisation, said: “It’s clear that there are current capacity problems with the testing regime. Trust leaders from Bristol, Leeds and London have all raised concerns over the weekend about the lack of testing availability leading to greater levels of staff absence. It’s not just access for tests for staff members themselves, it’s also access for their family members as NHS workers have to self-isolate if their family members are unable to confirm if they have Covid-19 or not.

“The problem is that NHS trusts are working in the dark – they don’t know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests. They need to know all this information so that they can plan accordingly. Trusts also have a concern about the impact of testing shortages on patients who need to be tested prior to planned hospital treatment.

“Trust leaders are frustrated that, throughout the pandemic, the government has always seemed more concerned with managing the political implications of operational problems rather than being open and honest about them - shortages of PPE and testing reagents earlier in the pandemic being good examples. The government response has often been to rely on a random, impressive sounding, overall statistic - the number of tests performed or PPE items delivered - or to set out a bold future ambition - a world class test and trace service by June, or a moonshot testing regime at some point next year. Both approaches ignore the operational problem at hand. Neither helps the frontline organisations that actually have to deal with the problem.

“The NHS frontline, and the public, need honesty so they can plan and look for their own solutions to the problem in order to provide patients with the care they need.”

Event Diary

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