Coronavirus testing of health and care staff needed on mass scale, say experts

Health and social care workers should be tested “routinely” and on a “mass scale” for coronavirus regardless of whether they have symptoms, according to a panel of experts.

Specialists in infectious diseases, epidemiology and public health from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) said the entire health and social care workforce must be the top priority for testing, which should also be “rapid”.

The panel suggested healthcare staff should receive their results within the first 24 hours to be effective, with concerns raised about the number of people who have tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms.

While capacity is expected to increase, there are concerns testing is being used “as a strategy in itself”.

Dr Susan Pound, vice-president for the group in Scotland, said: “What we want to see is an effective testing strategy to slow the spread of coronavirus and that begins with testing healthcare workers – including hospital consultants and care home staff.

“It is good that testing capacity is improving in Scotland – and across the UK – but a headline count of the number of tests per day is almost meaningless in managing the coronavirus and what matters most is the strategy that testing helps to deliver.

“Effective shielding of the most vulnerable people would require hundreds of thousands of daily tests for healthcare workers, care home workers and carers.”

She added: “In order to be effective, testing of these key workers must be done routinely, on a mass scale – and it must be done rapidly.

“Research shows many people do not show symptoms of coronavirus in the first 24-48 hours, so testing will only be effective if results are received within 24 hours.”

It comes in the wake of the Scottish Government announcing an expansion of testing to anyone over the age of five with any of the symptoms.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said during her daily briefing at St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh on Monday key workers will still be prioritised.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman also announced testing would be made available to all care staff, regardless of whether a case has been reported at the home in which they work or if they have symptoms.

Ex-prime minister Gordon Brown has said this is “still not good enough” and called for testing to be stepped up in care homes, saying he was “shocked” by a recent survey of residents and staff that found just 56% of those staying there and 43% of workers had been tested for Covid-19.

His plea has been backed by trade unions including the GMB, Unison, Unite and Usdaw, as well as the Royal College of Nursing and a number of care home employers.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Ben Birchall / PA Wire.