Covid tests for NHS and care staff without symptoms to be 'paused'

As cases of the virus continue to fall, asymptomatic testing will be stopped at the end of August

Published

Covid-19 testing among NHS and care home staff with no symptoms in England is to be “paused” at the end of August, officials have announced.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the decision to stop all “asymptomatic testing” comes as cases of the virus continue to fall.

But the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said nurses “must continue to have access to free testing and high-quality personal protective equipment”.

Routine asymptomatic testing for the general population stopped earlier this year and tests were no longer free to access for the general public.

People with Covid-19 continue to face increased risk of developing neurological and psychiatric conditions
People with Covid-19 continue to face increased risk of developing neurological and psychiatric conditions

But health and social care leaders called for testing among NHS and care staff to continue amid high case numbers.

Testing for staff and patients without symptoms continued in NHS, social care and some prison settings.

The department said that it made the decision to pause routine testing for most people without symptoms from August 31, but it will resume the programme “should it be needed”.

Asymptomatic testing will remain in place for people being admitted hospices and for those going into care homes and for immunocompromised patients who are being admitted to hospital, it said.

Testing for people with symptoms will continue in some NHS, social care and prison system settings.

Swab is inserted into a mouth as part of the typical Covid test.
Swab is inserted into a mouth as part of the typical Covid test.

This will include NHS staff with symptoms; patients who need a diagnosis so they can access Covid-19 treatments; care home and hospice staff; social care staff; hospice and care home residents; prison staff and detainees and staff and service users of certain domestic abuse refuges and homelessness services.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Thanks to the success of our world-leading vaccination roll-out, we are able to continue living with Covid and, from 31 August, we will pause routine asymptomatic testing in most high-risk settings.

“This reflects the fact case rates have fallen and the risk of transmission has reduced, though we will continue to closely monitor the situation and work with sectors to resume testing should it be needed.

A person placing a swab from a Covid 19 lateral flow test into a buffer tube contusing testing solution
A person placing a swab from a Covid 19 lateral flow test into a buffer tube contusing testing solution

“Those being admitted into care homes will continue to be tested.

“Our upcoming autumn booster programme will offer jabs to protect those at greatest risk from severe Covid, and I urge everyone who is eligible to take up the offer.”

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to the UK Health Security Agency, said: “Covid case rates and hospitalisations are on the decline, demonstrating the positive impact of the vaccines, which remain our best form of defence. The data from our surveillance shows prevalence is low and decreasing, and we will continue to monitor this data closely.

“If you are invited to receive a booster jab in the autumn, or if you have not yet had a Covid vaccine, please do take up the offer to protect yourself and those around you.”

Patricia Marquis, director for England at the RCN, said: “Nursing staff are only too aware of the terrible toll the failure to test can have on some of their most vulnerable patients.

“Cases of Covid-19 may well be falling but this virus has still not gone away, and it is vital that there is continued vigilance to ensure patients and nursing staff are not put at risk.

“Nursing staff must continue to have access to free testing and high-quality personal protective equipment.

“Risk assessments, in line with health and safety legislation, should be undertaken by all healthcare staff.

“We have all come a long way and must not risk any backwards step when health services are already under enormous pressure.”

Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives and Residents Association, said: “This policy has been rushed through with no consultation and without sharing the data on whether asymptomatic testing is helping to keep people in care safe.”

Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, said: “Clearing treatment backlogs and dealing with all the other NHS pressures relies on limiting the spread of coronavirus infection in health settings as much as possible.

“NHS staff were already alarmed that last month’s withdrawal of Covid pay and leave measures could be a backward step. Dispensing with testing requirements will make them even more worried about safety and the resilience of services.”