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Health secretary targeting on-the-spot Covid testing in GP practices


By Beth Kennedy
17 September 2020

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Health secretary Matt Hancock is ‘optimistic’ new technology is on the way to enable GPs to test patients for Covid-19 in their practices with an immediate result.

Mr Hancock revealed the news in response to a question from former primary care minister Steve Brine, the MP for Winchester.

The news comes as NHS England plans for live swab testing for coronavirus in primary care, outlined in June, did not materialise.

Speaking in Monday’s House of Commons debate about Covid testing shortages, Mr Brine said:  ‘Given the operational challenges that the Secretary of State spoke about, I wonder whether GP surgeries, or even our wonderful community pharmacists, could be part of the solution for front-door testing.’

To which Mr Hancock responded: ‘My honourable friend is a great expert in this issue and makes a really important point. The current technology works best in labs – people send a swab to the lab and get the result back, but there is a huge amount of logistics around that. We want technologies that can be in a pharmacy or a GP service, so that people get the test result back straight away. 

‘When such technologies come on stream – I am optimistic about this, as I am about a lot of things; I do not think I could do this job at the moment without being optimistic – that will give us a chance to get testing out into the community at every level.’

Mr Hancock said this comes as the Government wants to bring about Covid testing ‘solutions that are deeply embedded in the community’ rather than a ‘big national system’, adding: ‘When we have the technology to do that, we will be in a stronger place, and we are putting every possible effort and support behind people to try to make that happen.’

Monday’s debate also saw the health secretary promise to reprioritise access to testing – after being alerted to the fact of healthcare professionals needlessly isolating because they cannot access Covid tests.

This followed Healthcare Leader’s sister title Pulse’s exclusive revelation last week that GPs could not work because they or their children had symptoms that may or may not be related to Covid-19.

A version of this story first appeared in our sister title Pulse.

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