Health and social care staff have been omitted from those staying entitled to free testing as the remaining COVID-19 restrictions are eased.
Staff are currently required to test twice weekly to minimise asymptomatic transmission to vulnerable people. Under the proposed Government plans, care home residents, hospital patients and other vulnerable groups would be entitled to free testing. However, contrary to expectation, health and social care staff have been omitted from this list so far.
This comes as the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced plans yesterday for the UK to start living with COVID-19 as restrictions begin to ease. Yesterday during a Downing Street briefing, the Prime Minister announced the end to the legal requirement to self-isolate and the withdrawal of free PCR and lateral flow testing for the majority of the population.
Twice-weekly asymptomatic testing would stop immediately for staff and students in education and childcare settings, the Prime Minister confirmed yesterday during the Number 10 briefing. It was confirmed that care home residents, hospital patients, and other vulnerable groups will still be entitled to free testing. Notably, health and social care staff were omitted from this list.
The Prime Minister did say, however, that the full details of those who will remain entitled to free tests will be set out in full next month. Social care staff being omitted is likely to be down to the question of who will pay for continued testing, given The Prime Minister’s emphasis on budgetary constraints.
General Secretary and Chief Executive at the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen, said, 'This move feels unplanned and ill-informed. The Prime Minster had the opportunity to reassure health care staff in England they still have access to tests, and they will be alarmed today by this omission.
'Nursing staff remain on the frontline of protecting the most vulnerable in society and extra vigilance is needed for all those working in health and care returning to work after a positive result and a period absent.
'Nursing staff know the reality of living with COVID-19 and will want to see the evidence for this decision. They need to be assured there are robust plans in place should the number of cases increase again, or a new variant emerges.'
Chief Executive at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), Karen Middleton, said, ‘Without a comprehensive testing system in place for asymptomatic people as well as those showing symptoms, we cannot reduce the spread of the virus, particularly as new variants emerge.
'Removing this system and ending self-isolation is a reckless act at a time when we have barely emerged from the peak of this wave and cases remain so high.
'The CSP is concerned that these changes will also have a greater detrimental impact on those in low wage or insecure employment.
‘There doesn’t appear to be any public health rationale behind the decision and it risks leaving the NHS and social care systems with ever greater staffing shortages – not to mention the higher risk faced by already-vulnerable patients going into health settings for treatment.’
In other news, relaxed immigration rules concerning the ability of care staff to migrate to the UK from overseas have come into force.