MPs have called for coronavirus testing to be extended to GPs, as increasing numbers self-isolate as a precautionary measure, causing further strain on staff and services.
On Monday (16 March), the Government announced it would scale up testing for healthcare workers showing early symptoms of coronavirus.
But in a House of Commons debate, health secretary Matt Hancock said covid-19 tests need to be ‘prioritised… for the people who need them most, which means saving lives in hospitals’.
In response, Lib Dem MP Munira Wilson said: ‘Our services are stretched to the max already. We cannot afford to have those who do not need to self-isolate self-isolating, potentially multiple times, if they do not know whether they have had the virus’.
The health secretary added he does ‘want to get testing to everyone who needs it as soon as possible.’
More than 1,200 GPs signed a letter, published in The Times, calling for covid-19 symptomatic NHS staff to be given tests.
Academic GP in Birmingham Dr Samuel Finnikin said he has been symptomatic and self-isolating for a week. His partner, also a GP, is consequently self-isolating for 14 days.
‘Undoubtedly, it is taking people away from the front line. If I were to test negative, she could go back straight away,’ he added.
‘For me, it’s probably too late for the current test… because the viral load is reducing. So I would go back to work and not know whether I have had coronavirus.
‘I would have to follow all the advice again. If I or somebody in my family gets a cough again after the 14-day isolation period, then we’re back to 14 days isolating.
‘This is going to be a pattern that is repeated time and time again until we start getting testing that gives us answers either way.’
Academic GP in Glasgow Dr David Blane said his practice has two GP trainees self-isolating at the moment. He said there has also been confusion as to whether or not they can get testing, with different sources giving contradictory information.
‘I know anecdotally there are dozens and dozens of practices where staff who feel well are self-isolating at home because a child has a fever or a family member has a cough,’ he added.
‘So, letting those individuals get testing has to be a priority. They need to be told whether they need to stay at home or can go back to work.’
Dr Blane said phone lines at practices are particularly busy at the moment, with most people experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. The proportion of people called in for assessment is ‘relatively low’ but ‘that will increase’, he added.
‘At the moment practices can probably manage with a bit of reduced face-to-face manpower for another few days. But if the numbers double every five days, as predicted, then that can’t go on for that long.
‘The effect also varies from practice to practice. Two people being off work in a three-GP practice is going to have a much bigger impact than with my practice, for example, where there are around 10 of us.’