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Testing of NHS and Social Care Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:57 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Health and Social Care Committee 4:57 pm, 24th June 2020

That is a reasonable question. I will certainly take that away. In fact, the CMO is coming before the Health and Social Care Committee in a few weeks’ time, and I am sure we will ask that question. My understanding is that the concern in the clinical advice is the question of false positives—people who get told that they have coronavirus when they have not. Those people might be in a very important frontline clinical role and be asked to isolate, and that might take them off very important work. To me the obvious answer is to give them a second, confirmatory test to establish whether they really do have the virus.

Weekly testing matters and is so important not only because, with around a third of new infections happening in healthcare settings, it will save a lot of patients’ lives and save the lives of frontline healthcare workers, but because it is the critical thing stopping the NHS getting back to its normal levels of activity.

Last week, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, whom the shadow Secretary of State quoted, talked about the mountainous backlog we face in, for example, orthopaedic surgery. He said that the thing holding the NHS back is the time it is taking to set up what he calls “covid-lite” facilities, where there is a low risk of people having coronavirus. That is why testing is essential.

I do not want to take up any more time than I need to, but I want to make this point. Korea, Taiwan and Germany are all held up as examples of places that have been particularly effective in tackling coronavirus. All of them introduced test and trace, but they all did it when the virus was at an earlier stage with much lower levels of community transmission. If we want test and trace to be effective here, we need to introduce mass testing, starting with health and care staff, and we must not delay.