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The Health Secretary has said that the government has purchased 3.5 million antibody tests for coronavirus, promising that frontline doctors and nurses will be prioritised for testing.
Matt Hancock said that frontline hospital workers will be able in due course to find out whether they have been infected and are safe to go back to work. As of yet there is no timing on the arrival of the tests, which will not tell people whether they have coronavirus but whether they have had it, and patients in hospital will take priority over staff.
Antibodies to the virus in their blood will reveal whether they have been infected – and it is assumed that, if so, they will be immune. That will enable NHS staff to know that they can return to work without infecting patients.
The tests currently in use can detect the presence of the virus in a nose swab. Approximately 8,000 tests a day are being performed on the sickest patients in hospital to help with decisions about their treatment, but they are not currently offered to staff. The government has promised to increase those to 25,000 a day.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, has recently voiced the concerns of NHS staff at the absence of testing, which is causing ‘disruption and frustration as the NHS workforce is depleted at this crucial time’.
With growing backlogs of patients waiting for surgery, the NHS must quickly grapple with how to treat those patients, writes Ashley MacNaughton and David Thorpe