Staff testing 'dismantled' in virus hotspots

Ahead of a surge in virus cases, a number of NHS trusts stood down their in-house coronavirus testing for staff in the summer.

Following assurances from government about the capacity of the centralised system, the move left some staff, including in virus hotspots, unable to access testing when the national system came under strain earlier in the autumn.

The government has since said it has increased testing capacity, with the Department of Health and Social Care also extending regular testing to some NHS staff without symptoms.

Though NHS staff in large hospitals can generally access tests through their workplaces, many others have had to rely on the public system - referred to as ‘pillar two’ of the testing programme. Pillar two testing goes through six centralised Lighthouse Labs, and it is this part of the programme that has struggled with capacity over the past month or so.

Pillar one, dealt with in NHS laboratories, is generally for hospital patients and staff.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said pillar two of the testing system was currently running at its maximum safe capacity of 85 per cent, but testing in NHS labs was running at a lower capacity of 65 per cent meaning there was room to increase numbers.

From late August, through the autumn, the government was forced to restrict the public "pillar two" element of the testing regime in parts of the country, after rising demand meant labs couldn't keep up. This meant many people, including NHS staff, have struggled to get tests.

Public health experts have argued summer was when the nation should have been building, not reducing, testing capacity.

Event Diary

Virtual HPN Expo - bringing collaboration and innovation in healthcare into 2020