This week I voted to back the current NHS testing policy which is based on actual medical science rather than what day of the week it is.
NHS staff, care workers and other medical professionals are on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus, and I am in awe of their dedication, skill and professionalism. Over recent months, we have significantly increased our testing capacity in this country – we are now able to carry out more than 200,000 tests a day – which means that we can ensure all NHS and care staff are prioritised for regular testing.
The existing approach on the testing of NHS staff has been determined by clinical experts, including the Chief Medical Officer, and the NHS has already set out plans for how it will work. This includes continuing to prioritise testing of all NHS staff with symptoms, regular testing of asymptomatic staff in situations where there is an incident or outbreak, and regular surveillance testing across staff. The Government is continually reviewing clinical evidence to ensure regular testing of staff without symptoms is undertaken where appropriate.
This government has thrown a protective ring around the NHS during this crisis - from the national ventilator challenge, the amazing work to build the Nightingale hospitals and huge financial boosts, like writing-off over £130,000,000 of debt for MK hospital.
And our communities have played their part, too - be it staying home at first or latterly by staying alert, we've all done our bit to protect the NHS and save lives.
So now is not the time to play party politics with testing. And it's certainly never the time to drag our brave frontline NHS staff into Parliamentary stunts. What the headlines beneath these vote this week don't show is the facts that underpin the argument. The ‘weekly testing’ gimmick from Labour simply ignores all the medical science and advice from the most senior medical experts in the country. It was designed for headlines and not thought through at all. It was not backed by the doctor’s union, the British Medical Association, for example.
As I’m sure people can understand, we are taking a targeted approach to this testing, so that it is focused on the most high-risk areas. The current testing regime targets high-risk, front-line staff and is responsive to the local and national situation. The *minimum* is fortnightly, but the current system allows for more flexibility and frequency as the risk exposure increases.
Clinical advice is to focus intensive asymptomatic testing in those areas or settings identified to have high prevalence. Staff working with patients on wards, for example, will benefit from regular testing far more than NHS staff working in offices or administrative roles where they do not come into regular contact with patients. This approach is crucial as, when prevalence of the virus is very low, the risk of misleading results is higher. This can undermine the value of testing.
Moving to a flat weekly testing regime for all NHS staff would mean increasing testing in the lowest risk areas and losing that ability to quickly deploy tests where high risk areas are identified. We need to be as flexible as possible to support our frontline NHS staff.
NHS staff are already prioritised for testing - and have been for weeks. Our testing capabilities have increased immensely in such a short period of time. This is thanks in no small part to the lighthouse lab in MK and the partnerships with providers like Deloitte and Amazon.
We all want the best possible support for our NHS workers on the frontline. The best way to do that is to follow the professional advice and continue with the regime under medical and scientific advice we presently have.
We will continue to support our brilliant NHS staff throughout this pandemic, ensuring they have access to the equipment, tests and support they need as they continue to control the virus and save lives. Let’s be clear, NHS workers are absolute heroes and have enough to deal with as the nation’s frontline against a deadly virus, they should be being pulled into party political stunts.