NHS crisis as staff absences rise due to testing shortages

Insufficient coronavirus tests for NHS staff is leading to staff absences and services being put at high risk, hospital bosses have warned.

Hospital medics and GPs have described how delays of up to four days to get a test and five days to receive the result forces them to isolate and means they cannot work normally in the NHS.

The government's testing system - part of its test, track and trace operation which Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised would be "world-beating" - has faced criticism in recent weeks.

NHS Providers said hospitals in London, Bristol and Leeds had raised concerns over the weekend about staff absences because of a lack of testing.

Chris Hopson, NHS Providers chief executive, said: "It's not just access for tests for staff members themselves, it's also access for their family members as NHS workers have to self-isolate if their family members are unable to confirm if they have Covid-19 or not."

Last week, Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer warned that the test-and-trace system is “on the verge of collapse”.

Dr Rinesh Parmar, the chair of the Doctors' Association UK, said: “The current arrangements for Covid-19 testing are an utter shambles. We have key workers, such as GPs and hospital doctors, who are unable to access testing, having to self-isolate and ultimately not see patients.

“With an already stretched NHS workforce and 8,274 doctor vacancies in England alone prior to the pandemic, we can ill afford to have doctors self-isolating due to a lack of available testing.”

NHS Providers said the lack of testing was also hindering preparations for the winter, when hospitals could become busier due to Covid-19 and seasonal flu.

Mr Hopson called on the government "to be honest and open" about what was going on.

Chaand Nagpaul, the chairman of the British Medical Association has said the government should focus on the current testing system - rather than its "Operation Moonshot" plan which aims to see millions of tests processed every day by using a new type of test which is not yet rolled out.

Meanwhile, nurses and other healthcare workers are demanding a 15% pay rise and threatening strikes despite warnings of a second wave.

Hundreds marched through central London on Saturday following a two-minute silence to remember the 640 healthcare workers who died of Covid-19.

The protest comes after nurses were left out of a government pay rise thanking 900,000 public sector workers for their contributions during the coronavirus outbreak.