Covid: NHS bosses call for free tests and isolation to remain
A group that represents NHS bosses has called for free Covid testing to remain, despite speculation that it could be scrapped.
The NHS Confederation also said 75% of senior staff in England did not want self-isolation rules to end.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce new relaxations to Covid rules in England on Monday.
This could include scrapping PCR test centres and free lateral flow tests as part of a “living with Covid” strategy.
The government has spent billions of pounds on testing throughout the pandemic. Experts believe in future it could be used only in hospitals and care settings, or to deal with major outbreaks.
In the survey of more than 300 NHS leaders, four-fifths said they disagreed with the expected plan to end free testing.
“We do have to learn to live safely with Covid in the medium term. That does not mean pretending the threat to our health, and in some cases life, simply no longer exists.”
And they also expressed the need for regular testing to continue for health staff and key workers.
Asked on Thursday if free Covid tests would be scrapped next week, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We are looking at how we learn to live with Covid. And that does mean the protections we’ve enjoyed over the last few months, that they all should be reviewed.
“So we’re looking at the very latest data and next week we’ll have more to say about it.”
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Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the confederation, said: “Hospital admissions and deaths linked to coronavirus continue to fall nationally and this is allowing the NHS to bring back many routine services that it was asked to de-prioritise during the peaks of the pandemic, including some non-urgent elective procedures.
“With the success of the vaccine and new Covid treatments, this offers real hope as we learn to live with the virus.
“But the government cannot wave a magic wand and pretend the threat has disappeared entirely.”
He said not enough was yet known about how much long-term protection vaccines provided and there was still the uncertainty of future strains developing.
Professor Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard, who chairs the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, says the change being proposed by the government “feels very sudden”.
“We do have to learn to live safely with Covid in the medium term. That does not mean pretending the threat to our health, and in some cases life, simply no longer exists,” she said.
“We should take a more gradual, phased approach to relaxing the rules and carefully watch what happens to the rates of infection – particularly in healthcare settings or other environments where people are particularly at risk.”
A group of charities representing the 500,000 people in the UK with impaired immune systems have also called for free Covid testing to remain.
Fredi Cavander-Attwood, from the MS Society, said: “It is not our goal for blanket restrictions to be reinstated. We simply want all 500,000 immunocompromised people, including some with MS, to be protected and supported to manage their risk so they can live normal lives.
“That’s why the government’s plan must include sensible, simple measures, like maintaining free testing, strengthening employment protections for people at risk, making sure they get treatment quickly if they get Covid-19 and having a plan for the use of preventative treatments.”
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC in January that there were no plans to ask people to pay for lateral-flow test kits – but more newspaper reports that the government is considering the idea have emerged since then.
The Department of Health and Social Care has also said it is continually monitoring the risks to protect the most vulnerable.
It said people with weakened immune systems were advised to “consider extra precautions to reduce their chance of catching Covid-19”.