NHS staff have said they cannot get hold of any lateral flow tests – with some unable to work despite not testing positive for covid at a time when hospitals are routinely cancelling appointments and procedures due to Omicron, it was revealed today.
The British Medical Association and Royal College of Nursing have urged the Government to put health workers first for rapid tests to ease staffing issues in the health service.
One in ten NHS staff are currently off sick or isolating – but there are even higher absence rates at individual hospitals, but the NHS does not break down absence by cause, meaning many may be off with other illnesses including stress.
With the Government’s website out of LFTs again today, at least half a dozen NHS trusts across England have indicated they may be unable to deliver vital care to patients – and doctors and nurses say that they are scrambling for tests because they have to go online like millions of other Britons.
Pharmacies have also said it could be up to a fortnight before they get new kits in due to shortages in the supply chain over Christmas, when the company given sole responsibility for distributing them shut down for four days over the festive period.
Hospital doctors, GPs, and cancer care nurses and have all said they are stuck at home having come into close contact with covid cases but unable to get enough lateral flow tests for check daily if they are also infected.
The situation has been made worse because PCR tests have also been scarce or unavailable, even for NHS staff.
Currently doctors, nurses and other health service staff can get LFTs from their place of work, if they are available, while some larger trusts have on-site testing. But most have to to use the same system as everyone else in the UK.
One medic tweeted last night: ‘9 hospitals have now declared critical incidents and NHS staff are still wearing surgical masks and can’t get hold of lateral flow tests. It’s a perfect storm. A s**t storm’. Another tweeted: ‘Current policy in my trust is if you have been near someone who has tested positive, you must lateral flow for 10 days & isolate from other staff on breaks. I have 7 lateral flow tests and none available nearby. Boris Johnson, care to fix this issue?’.
A GP wrote: ‘@sajidjavid The education secretary has got 31 million lateral flow tests for schools. I’m a GP. Our staff and I can’t get any. If we can’t test we can’t work safely. Secure supplies of Lateral flow tests for NHS staff are needed urgently’.
Pharmacies have run out of tests and say it could be weeks, not days, until they got more
Today, again, there were no lateral flow tests available on the Government’s website, which NHS staff also have to use
Doctors, nurses and NHS staff have said that they cannot get hold of the tests they need
It came as Boris Johnson promised 100,000 critical workers will be sent lateral flow tests to take every day in a Government bid to protect key services – but not to the 1million-plus NHS staff.
Covid testing rules could be relaxed to free nation crippled by isolation
Covid testing rules could be relaxed in an effort to combat the havoc wreaked on essential services across the country with thousands of key workers left stuck in self-isolation.
As the number succumbing to the virus reached a record high, there were fears that staff absence due to Covid could become just as big a problem, with bin collections delayed, trains cancelled and several hospitals in Greater Manchester saying they would suspend non-urgent surgeries.
Heart attack victims were also told to ‘get a lift’ to hospital rather than wait for an ambulance.
A total of 218,724 Covid cases were recorded – meaning there could be at least 1.27million Britons forced to quarantine, among them thousands of NHS staff.
Despite this, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said there is a good chance the nation can ‘ride out this Omicron wave’ without having to bring in further Covid restrictions.
In yesterday’s Downing St. briefing, the Prime Minister said now is the moment for ‘utmost caution’ and made no mention of any plans to reduce the Covid isolation periods, despite admitting that Omicron is milder and cases are not translating into the same intensive care demand as previous waves.
According to the Daily Telegraph however, in an attempt to ease staff shortages health officials have devised a plan to limit PCR tests to just those with symptoms, while asymptomatic Covid cases will be able to return to work more quickly by just relying on the lateral flow test.
The current isolation period in Britain is set at a minimum of seven days, providing a Covid positive individual can test negative on two lateral flow test results at least 24 hours apart on days six and seven.
Food processing staff, border force officers and air traffic controllers will be among those to receive the swabs next week.
Boris Johnson said the Government was ‘acting to protect critical national services, keep supply chains open and fortify our NHS to withstand the pressures ahead’.
‘We’ve identified 100,000 critical workers in areas from food processing to transport to our border force,’ the Prime Minister said. ‘And from January 10 we’ll be rolling out lateral flow testing for all these workers.’
Ministers hope the tests will stop workers self-isolating unnecessarily as well as prevent outbreaks.
Covid testing rules will be relaxed to shorten isolation periods, the Daily Telegraph reported last night.
People who test positive on lateral flows but lack symptoms will be told they do not need a follow-up PCR test. This means their self-isolation period can be a day or two shorter.
Staff at pharmacies are facing a wave of abuse from frustrated customers who are still unable to get their hands on free lateral flow tests, a health industry chief warned.
Some Britons claim they have been unable to get hold of lateral flow tests at their local pharmacies for up to ‘two weeks’ due to a supply shortage of the swab tests.
The issue – said to be sparked by distribution problems in the Government’s free testing programme – has led to people being unable to order tests online at various points.
Some pharmacies have also been forced to put up signs warning customers they have no more free tests.
With supplies still said to be ‘patchy’, pharmacy bosses are warning that staff are facing ‘unfair’ and ‘abusive’ behaviour by customers who are unable to pick up testing kits.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP), told MailOnline: ‘Up until yesterday the supply to pharmacies were still patchy. The past few days the situation has no improved.
‘Pharmacies are having to put up with a lot of abuse and aggressive behaviours by members of the public because of this situation which is unfair.
‘The demand is still very high now because the governments guidelines put a lot of emphasis on testing as a key out of self isolation, so naturally as Omicron cases are high people are reliant on tests to get on with daily life.’
Some pharmacies have been forced to put up signs warning customers they have no more free tests because of the shortages (pictured: Library image)
Dr Hannbeck, meanwhile, insists pharmacies are still the ‘right place to distribute’ lateral flow tests.
She added: ‘They are very accessible and also in hard to reach communities — and for people who cannot go online such as the elderly and those who don’t have access to internet pharmacies are the best option.
Speaking about the situation, Dr Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told MailOnline: ‘Up until yesterday the supply to pharmacies were still patchy.
‘In addition, we can monitor the supply in that we can ensure controlled supply.’
Dr Hannbeck’s comments come as it emerged yesterday that the company given sole responsibility for distributing lateral flow tests to pharmacies by the Government shut down for four days over the festive period – just after it received 2.5 million tests.
Pharmacists have blamed Alliance Healthcare for being verbally abused after they ‘closed down for Christmas’.
The boss of the company supplying lateral flow Covid tests refused to comment because he just came back from holiday.
Pablo Rivas, who is Chief Operating Officer at Alliance Healthcare UK, the sole distributor of LFTs to pharmacies around the country, said he did not know about the testing crisis because he had just returned from ‘somewhere nice’.
Asked if the Government were aware that the firm had planned to close for some of the festive period, he said all enquiries had to go through the press office, but he added: ‘I just came back from holiday so I really don’t know that much at the moment. We are having to quarantine now.’
A spokesman for Alliance Healthcare later confirmed that the Government were aware that the company intended to shut down for four days on December 25.
An Alliance Healthcare spokesperson said: ‘Alliance Healthcare published its Christmas Bank Holiday opening hours on its website on 26 November. The UKHSA were aware of the planned closure and the PSNC communicated out multiple times to pharmacies.
Millions of people have been struggling to get LFTs online – but some have trying to sell the packs given them to free by the Government, all paid for by the taxpayer
‘During the week commencing 20 December, Alliance Healthcare distributed around 9 million lateral flow tests to community pharmacies in the UK. Of these nearly half were delivered on the pharmacy’s next delivery (Alliance Healthcare delivers lateral flow tests as part of its daily delivery service) and the rest delivered over the following 2 days, all within the 72-hour delivery time agreed with the UKHSA.
‘UKHSA delivery into Alliance Healthcare takes place throughout the day to its 11 service centres in the UK. Of the 2.3 million lateral flow tests that we received on 24 December, over 1 million of these were distributed on the same day. In total we distributed 2 million lateral flow tests on December 24.
Pablo Rivas, who is Chief Operating Officer at Alliance Healthcare UK, the sole distributor of LFTs to pharmacies around the country, said he did not know about the testing crisis because he had just returned from ‘somewhere nice’
‘Alliance Healthcare resumed distribution on 29 December when community pharmacies, the majority of which were also closed over the Christmas period, re-opened and a further 2 million lateral flow tests have since been distributed.
‘Alliance Healthcare continues to support community pharmacy and has delivered over 280 million lateral flow kits since the start of the Pharmacy Collect scheme. We are continuing to support the NHS and its efforts to fight COVID-19 , and to distribute over 10 million lateral flow tests per week, to support the continued demand; millions more than originally planned with the UKHSA.’
It comes as Britons today continued to face issues in getting hold of lateral flow testst.
One claimed she had been unable to access a test for ‘over two weeks. Lesley Tarling wrote on Twitter: ‘No lateral flow test available in my area.
‘My local pharmacies haven’t had them for over two weeks, so those people who have been mixing over Christmas can’t test before going out and about.’
Another Twitter user wrote: ‘So you are advised to lateral flow test periodically by the Government and Boris Johnson, however I’ve tried nearly eight pharmacies in Telford and none of htem have stock!
One pharmacy, Elora Pharmacy, in Benfleet, Essex, also urged customers to be understanding with its staffing, writing on Twitter: ‘There are still some supply issues with lateral flow tests, and we ask for your patience and understanding towards our staff at this time.
‘Many of the issues are outside of our control and we really do appreciate people’s co-operation. Thank you.’
Leading Oxford vaccine expert warns giving regular boosters is ‘not sustainable’
Britons shouldn’t be offered a fourth Covid jab until there is more evidence, the head of the country’s vaccine body has claimed.
Sir Andrew Pollard, chairperson of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said giving boosters to people every six months was ‘not sustainable’.
He said future vaccination drives should target the most vulnerable rather than offering top-up doses to all adults.
Germany’s health minister warned a second booster will be required to manage Omicron, while Israel has approved a fourth dose for all over-60s.
The UK last month ordered 114million more Pfizer and Moderna doses which will arrive over the next two years to ‘future-proof’ the vaccination drive, but it is not yet clear how these will be used.
Professor Pollard, who previously insisted booster jabs may not be needed, said: ‘The future must be focusing on the vulnerable and making boosters or treatments available to them to protect them.
It comes as it emerged yesterday that eBay profiteers are trying to cash in on the crisis by selling packs of seven NHS tests for £100 on the eve of the reopening of schools and the nation heading back to work.
Supplies of Covid tests meanwhile are likely to be rationed over the next fortnight as health officials struggle to cope with ‘huge demand’, Sajid Javid admitted.
The health secretary warned in a letter to MPs that tests will need to be prioritised for ‘vulnerable groups’, such as care home residents and staff.
But there are fears the supply problems could hit the economy if workers are unable to get the tests they need to leave quarantine early.
Medical unions revealed doctors and nurses are among those struggling to access tests as they called for them to be pushed to the front of the queue in a bid to avert an NHS staffing crisis.
Mr Javid plans to use 900million lateral flow devices (LFDs) this winter in an attempt to keep the virus under control, staff in work and businesses open.
The UK Health Security Agency doubled deliveries of LFDs from 120million to almost 300million in December.
And the government will triple supplies for January and February from an anticipated 100million to 300million per month.
Mr Javid told MPs: ‘The arrival of the omicron variant has caused record case numbers and unprecedented demand for both PCR and Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests.
‘This has inevitably placed strain on the testing system, despite the impressive scaling-up of supply, logistics and laboratory capacity. Other countries have faced similar challenges.’
He added: ‘We are constantly reviewing system performance and ways to maximise its response to the demand for tests.
‘However, in light of the huge demand for LFDs seen over the last three weeks, we expect to need to constrain the system at certain points over the next two weeks to manage supply over the course of each day, with new tranches of supply released regularly throughout each day.
‘We will continue making tests available to everyone who needs them, particularly vulnerable groups such as care home residents and those who work in critical sectors such as the care workforce.’
The UK Health Security Agency has previously stressed there was no issue with supply, instead blaming logistical problems, including difficulties shipping so many tests from its warehouses.
But outlining plans for the months ahead, Mr Javid said: ‘To respond to anticipated demand over the coming few weeks we are buying hundreds of millions more LFD tests, bringing new products on board and accelerating their deployment to the public.
‘We are also doubling our total delivery capacity with Royal Mail to 900,000 test packs and PCR tests a day.
‘We are tripling the supply of LFDs in January and February from our pre-omicron plan of 100 million to 300 million per month.’
Mr Javid said that the Government’s daily PCR capacity had been increased from 530,000 per day in November to 700,000 per day now, excluding those for NHS patients and staff.
He also stressed the UK is providing tests free of charge for people with or without symptoms, unlike many other countries.
Boris bats away calls for Covid isolation to be slashed to FIVE days
Boris Johnson batted away pleas for Covid self-isolation to be slashed to five days, warning it could make staff shortages even worse.
Calls have been mounting for the UK to emulate the US by trimming the period again to stop the economy and key services being crippled by absences.
However, the PM insisted that going below the current seven days could have the ‘perverse’ effect of speeding the spread, as three times more people would still be infectious when they return to workplaces.
On a visit to a vaccination centre in Stoke Mandeville, Mr Johnson urged people to ‘stick to Plan B’ stressing that that Omicron is ‘plainly milder’.
But he cautioned that the health service will be under ‘considerable pressure’ for weeks to come, suggesting staff will be moved to plug gaps.
Asked about the idea of easing isolation rules – already reduced from 10 days as long as people are negative on lateral flow tests on day six and seven – Mr Johnson said: ‘We’ll continue to look at the infectivity periods, but the key thing is we don’t want to be releasing people back into the workplace when they’re still infectious.
‘And the risk is you’d increase the numbers of people going back into the workplace who are infectious by a factor of three. So you might perversely have a negative effect on the workforce if you see what I mean, so that’s the argument we’re looking at.’