A lack of testing is contributing to staff absenteeism across the NHS, putting services at risk, health leaders have warned.
NHS providers, representing the NHS trust leaders, said hospitals in Bristol, Leeds and London had been concerned over the weekend about the lack of available tests for NHS staff.
It warned that the recovery of normal NHS services was in jeopardy, while preparations for the winter pressures of Covid-19 and the seasonal flu were hampered.
NHS personnel now have to isolate themselves due to the inability to get a test for themselves or their family members, it said.
Tests came under scrutiny after people across England reported that they couldn’t book tests or were offered tests hundreds of miles away.
Chris Hopson, CEO of NHS Providers, said there is a lack of detailed operational information about the shortages, such as how long they will last.
He said: “It is clear that there are current capacity problems with the testing regime.
“Confidence leaders from Bristol, Leeds and London have all expressed concerns this weekend about the lack of availability of tests leading to increased staff absenteeism.
“It’s not just access to tests for staff members themselves, it’s access for their family members, as NHS employees must isolate themselves if their family members cannot confirm whether they have Covid-19 or not.
The problem is that NHS trusts are operating in the dark – they don’t know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be, and what priority will be given to health workers and their families in access to sparse tests.
“They need all this information to plan accordingly.
“Trusts, for example, need to know whether to try to create or restore their own testing facilities as soon as possible.”
Mr. Hopson said the NHS trusts were also concerned about the impact of test shortages on patients who need to be tested before admission for hospital treatment.
“We are aware of a small number of examples of patients who are unable to receive such tests, thereby restoring the ability of trusts to restore services in the way they have been asked to,” he said.
“For example, we are concerned that patients awaiting hospital treatment will no longer be able to emphasize this fact when they sign up for a test online.
“We need to prioritize testing for health professionals and their families and patients coming in for treatment, many of whom have waited longer than usual.
“Our recent survey showed how concerned trust leaders were about the impact of inadequate testing on their ability to recover services, and it is disappointing that detailed information on current issues has not been shared.”
He urged the government to be “honest and open” about what was going on.
“The government’s response has often been to rely on a random, impressive-sounding, generic statistic – the number of tests performed or PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) delivered – or to set out a bold future ambition – a testing and tracking service world-class by June, or a moonshot test regime sometime next year, ”he said.
“Both approaches ignore the operational problem. Neither helps the frontline organizations actually dealing with the problem. “
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said the testing capacity is targeting the hardest-hit areas after rising demand.