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‘Tripling’ of NHS staff needing coronavirus tests sparks delays as schools return

PUBLISHED: 08:05 16 September 2020 | UPDATED: 08:36 16 September 2020

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals Pictures: ARCHANT

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals Pictures: ARCHANT

Rachel Edge

Demand for Covid-19 tests at the region’s hospitals has tripled in the past week, with NHS chiefs stepping up the number of testing slots available for staff.

Teresa Budrey of the Royal College of Nursing Picture: RCNTeresa Budrey of the Royal College of Nursing Picture: RCN

Nick Hulme, chief executive of Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, said a small number of workers had been affected by testing delays across both sites amid a sudden surge in requests.

The need for tests has become more apparent since schools went back, Mr Hulme said, with children developing symptoms and parents having to get tested and self-isolate.

MORE: Schools field ‘daily deluge’ of calls from parents over coronavirus fears

Testing slots for staff have almost quadrupled in the past few days and Mr Hulme says any delays have not had any effect on the day-to-day running of the hospitals.

“In the last week, we’ve seen a tripling in the number of staff who require a test for Covid. It’s become more apparent since the schools went back,” he said.

An East of England Ambulance Service frontline worker said she is currently unable to work as she is self-isolating Picture: EEASTAn East of England Ambulance Service frontline worker said she is currently unable to work as she is self-isolating Picture: EEAST

“To be honest, we didn’t really predict that, but now we’ve seen that increase, we’ve increased the resource. We did have eight slots a day for staff and we’ve now got 30 slots, and that’s increasing literally every day.

“Last week, there were some issues with being able to offer a test but now, if you’re a member of staff and either yourself or a member of your family are symptomatic, you will be offered a test within 24 hours, and you’ll get your results in 24 hours.”

MORE: Frustration as Suffolk schools are hit by coronavirus testing ‘shambles’

He added: “So it’s much improved and we’re able to now respond to that increase in demand, and we will keep a constant eye on it and respond to that demand as and when it goes up.

“It was a handful of staff, no more than 10-15 staff have been affected by the delays.”

A small number of NHS staff faced testing delays Picture: BEN BIRCHALL/PA WIREA small number of NHS staff faced testing delays Picture: BEN BIRCHALL/PA WIRE

Although the initial delays have been tackled, Mr Hulme said they are keeping a close eye out for any peaks in demand.

MORE: How difficult is it to book a coronavirus test?

Teresa Budrey, of the eastern branch of the Royal College of Nursing, said she was aware some of her members had been asked to travel long distances to test centres.

She warned that the region faced delays with NHS testing in the early stages of the pandemic and called on the Government to provide resources to ensure all staff can access tests.

A frontline worker at the East of England Ambulance Trust said she was missing work this week with a cough because she had been unable to book a test.

“The situation is dire,” she said. “NHS workers should have priority access to tests.”

• NHS and social care to be prioritised for testing

It comes amid national reports of NHS staff being off work after being unable to get a test.

NHS Providers, which represents NHS trust leaders, said hospitals across the country were worried about a lack of tests available for staff.

Health secretary Matt Hancock admitted last week that there had been “challenges in access to tests” but insisted “the vast majority of people get their tests rapidly and close to home”.

MORE: Is your child well enough to go to school - and when do they need a coronavirus test?

The West Suffolk MP said an updated prioritisation list would set out who will be at the front of the queue for tests.

“As demand has risen, we are having to prioritise once again and I do not shirk from decisions about prioritisation. They are not always comfortable, but they are important.”

Acute clinical care is the top priority, with social care next on the list and receiving more than 100,000 tests a day.


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