All staff across three NHS trust areas in north-west England are in the process of being rapidly tested for coronavirus to control the spread of the disease.
There is growing concern in the region after cases rose in Lancashire and tracers were unable to get in touch with thousands of people who may have been in contact with someone with Covid-19. It is understood that the staff mass testing is being rolled out across Bolton, Stockport and Blackpool foundation trusts.
“In line with previous PHE/chief medical officer advice, additional staff testing is sometimes deployed on a precautionary basis,” an NHS North West spokesperson said. “As usual, staff who test positive will be given support to self-isolate in line with government rules.”
Stockport NHS foundation trust said a “small number” of patients and staff had been identified as having the virus and that testing would take place over the next five days. “We have begun a process of rapid staff testing for Covid-19 to strengthen our efforts to prevent and control the spread of the infection across Stepping Hill hospital,” a spokesperson said.
“Changes to lockdown arrangements across parts of the north of England reflect the prevalence of the infection in our local communities, and recently we have identified a small number of infections amongst staff and patients.”
They added: “We have taken rapid action to safeguard ourselves and the people who need our care. On Friday evening we began the rapid testing programme that over the next five days will see all our hospital staff tested.
“Staff found to have the infection will be required to self-isolate in line with national guidelines.”
It is not the first time that a trust has ordered the rapid testing of all staff. On Tuesday, in north Wales, plans were announced for the testing of all staff at the general hospital in Wrexham after cases spiked by a dozen. And a fortnight ago, all 9,000 hospital staff in east Kent were set to be tested amid fears that transmission at the hospital may have contributed to particularly high death rates. It reportedly found that 15 staff members had the virus.
There is growing pressure to routinely test all NHS staff – a logical means of controlling the virus in hospital – with Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, among those critical of the failure to routinely test all NHS staff, but the government has said it is focused on testing care home staff.
“NHS staff want to know they will get the weekly testing that has now been offered to care home staff so they can be confident they won’t pass on infections to patients,” Hunt wrote in a letter to Matt Hancock last week.
“The chief medical officer for England [Prof Chris Whitty] says he supports this in principle so there should be no further delays given the complicated logistics necessary to set it up ahead of winter.”