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Thousands of doctors and nurses have to take time off from work because they cannot get tested

Thousands of GPs and nurses are unable to work because they are waiting for results from a coronavirus test, it was claimed today.

The growing absences caused by NHS personnel having to isolate themselves – which experts first warned about in the spring – were revealed by the Royal College of GPs in a letter to testing Tsar Baroness Dido Harding.

Delays affect physicians’ ability to see and diagnose patients with life-threatening conditions early, potentially compromising their chances of survival. They said the difficulties affect rapid diagnoses of life-threatening illnesses, such as septicemia, kidney infections and meningitis.

It’s because separate data revealed today that between March and May, more than 1.3 million days of work was lost in the NHS in England due to a coronavirus-related illness.

The test system has come under pressure since demand was up to four times over capacity when schools and offices returned, prompting potential Covid-19 patients to drive hundreds of miles to get a cotton swab.

Boris Johnson has promised to increase capacity to 500,000 a day by the end of October, but the industry warned yesterday that it is already “a few weeks behind” the prime minister’s target due to delays in deliveries.

And the UK’s average test capacity over seven days has fallen over the past three days, from a maximum of 230,000 a day on September 18 to 226,000 on September 20.

Thousands of GPs are absent while waiting for a coronavirus test, it was reported. (Stock)

Thousands of GPs are absent while waiting for a coronavirus test, it was reported. (Stock)

In a letter, they expressed concern to Baroness Harding, head of the government’s testing program: “GPs tell us they are struggling to access tests for themselves and their teams.

“With schools and workplaces opening up, which is driving demand for both primary care and testing, we simply cannot afford to have practice personnel isolate themselves, removing them from primary care clinical practice. This is especially important given the extensive flu vaccination program that many practices began delivering over the weekend.

“Primarily, the general practice should have access to Pillar 1 testing, similar to access for second-line staff.”

They added: ‘The difficulties of accessing tests have also had a knock-on effect in general practice as GPs are inundated with requests from patients who are struggling to access tests in their area. It is critical that access to tests is available to patients who need it within accessible distances.

GPs also need to have quick access to patient testing in general practice, where clinically appropriate.

GPs will be better able to diagnose other diseases similar to Covid-19, such as kidney infections, septicemia and meningitis, if they have access to tests for patients in general practice.

“However, this must be accompanied by a significant expansion of testing capacity, and the GP practice should not be the first port of call for Covid-19 testing, as this would lead to an uncontrollable GP workload.”

The Royal College of GPs (London headquarters pictured) issued the warning, saying GPs should be prioritized in the testing regimen

The Royal College of GPs (London headquarters pictured) issued the warning, saying GPs should be prioritized in the testing regimen

The Royal College of GPs (London headquarters pictured) issued the warning, saying GPs should be prioritized in the testing regimen


The NHS is facing a nursing crisis with more than 40,000 vacancies and more than a third of the workforce are considering leaving next year, a damning report warns.

The Department of Health does not understand the NHS’s nursing needs and does not know how many nurses are needed, or where and in what specialty, said MPs.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said social care nursing needs are “ an unaddressed afterthought, ” with the number of jobs falling by a fifth since 2012.

Stress and burnout have been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis, with 36 percent of staff considering quitting – up from 28 percent before the pandemic hit.

The warning comes as a leading health think tank urged officials to improve working conditions for nurses or face massive shortages.

According to the King’s Fund, staff stress, absenteeism and turnover in the professions have reached ‘alarmingly high levels’.

Matt Hancock has already announced that to manage the demand for tests, there will be a priority list, with doctors and nurses at the front of the line.

In a priority list published on September 21, the Ministry of Health said: ‘Although capacity is record high, demand has grown rapidly and is currently above these levels.

As we look at winter, we have outlined below who we want to test and how and why we will test them.

“The exact assignment of tests across these key areas is dynamic and subject to change as it is based on the latest risk and demand data.”

In rank, this is how tests are prioritized:

  1. Hospital patients of the NHS, including all new hospital admissions
  2. Nursing home staff (weekly) and residents (monthly upon admission)
  3. NHS staff
  4. Surveillance studies to collect data and test them in a high-risk environment
  5. Teachers with symptoms
  6. Members of the public with symptoms in areas with high infection rates
  7. Members of the public with symptoms in other areas

Mr Hancock said: “The testing capacity we have is valuable. And we need to prioritize it together for the people who need it most. ‘

Tests will also target outbreak areas and teachers will also be given priority.

For the general public, people in areas with a high incidence are given priority.

In the House of Commons, Mr. Hancock said test capacity was at a record high of 253,521, but “in addition to this record expansion, demand has also increased.”

He told MPs: ‘We must prioritize testing for those who need it most to save lives, protect the most vulnerable and ensure that our health and care services and our schools can operate safely.


More than 1.3 million days of work were lost in the NHS in England due to coronavirus-related illness over three months, new figures show.

Data from NHS Digital, released today, shows that between March and May, 1,349,599 full-time equivalent (FTE) working days were lost due to Covid-19 absence.

This was the equivalent of about 22 percent of the nearly 6.1 million FTE sick days lost during the period of all workforce groups in the NHS in England.

The data showed that during the peak of the April outbreak, 690,569 FTE days were lost due to Covid-19 – 30.6 percent of the nearly 2.3 million absences recorded that month.

In March, 318,140 coronavirus-related FTE days were lost to absenteeism, 15.9 percent of total absenteeism, and in May, 340,890 FTE days were lost to Covid, accounting for 18.9 percent of all absences that month.

Miriam Deakin, NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy, said it was not clear how many of the absences could be avoided.

She added: ‘These figures show how the true impact of Covid-19 on NHS staff absenteeism persisted into the summer, even as the initial increase in the number of cases declined.

Almost one in five days lost due to absence in May was related to Covid.

Providing a safe environment for staff and patients is an absolute priority for trusts, which is why capacity for regular testing is so important.

“In the absence of regular routine tests for staff and patients, with fast turnaround times, this was clearly a problem at the beginning of the summer, and it remains a problem today.”

The London region reported the highest Covid 19-related absenteeism as a percentage of all FTE days lost to absence in March at 26 percent and April at 40 percent, but in May the highest related absenteeism was in the Southeast at 25.8 percent.

Professionally qualified clinical staff – including doctors, nurses and ambulance personnel – had lost the most FTE days to Covid-19-related illness with 758,927 over the three-month period.

This accounted for 56 percent of the total number of FTE days lost to the coronavirus during the period for all workforce groups.

Of the professionally qualified clinical staff group, nurses had lost the highest number of FTE days to the virus, peaking at 256,053 in April.

The overall sick leave rate for NHS personnel in England in May was 4.7 percent.

This is down from 6.2 percent in April, the highest level ever in the data, dating back to April 2009.