Thousands of doctors and nurses are having to take time off work because they can't get tested

Thousands of GPs and nurses are unable to go into work because they are waiting for results from a coronavirus test, it was claimed today.

The mounting absences caused by NHS staff having to self-isolate — which experts first warned about in the Spring — were revealed by the Royal College of GPs in a letter to testing tsar Baroness Dido Harding.

Delays are impacting doctors ability to see and diagnose patients suffering from life-threatening conditions early, potentially threatening their chances of survival. They said the difficulties are impacting rapid diagnoses of life-threatening diseases, such as septicaemia, kidney infections and meningitis.

It comes as separate data today revealed that more than 1.3million days of work were lost in the NHS in England due to coronavirus-related sickness between March and May.  

The testing system has come under pressure since demand surged up to four times above capacity as schools and offices returned, leaving possible Covid-19 patients being asked to drive hundreds of miles to get a swab.

Boris Johnson has promised to raise capacity to 500,000 a day by the end of October, but the industry warned yesterday that it is already a ‘few weeks behind’ the Prime Minister’s target due to delays in deliveries.

And the UK’s seven-day average testing capacity has fallen over the last three days, from a high of 230,000 a day on September 18 to 226,000 on September 20. 

Thousands of GPs are off work as they wait for a coronavirus test, it was reported. (Stock)

Thousands of GPs are off work as they wait for a coronavirus test, it was reported. (Stock)

Expressing their concern to Baroness Harding, who heads the Government’s testing programme, in a letter, they said: ‘GPs tell us that they are struggling to access tests for themselves and their teams.

‘As schools and workplaces open, driving demand for both primary care services and testing, we simply cannot afford to have practice staff having to isolate, taking them out of frontline clinical practice. This is particularly important given the expanded flu vaccination programme which many practices started to deliver last weekend.

‘As a priority, general practice must have access to Pillar 1 testing, akin to access for staff in secondary care.’

They added: ‘The difficulties in accessing testing have also had a knock-on effect in general practice as GPs are being inundated with requests from patients struggling to access testing near them. It’s crucial that access to testing is available for patients who need it within accessible distances.

‘GPs should also have rapid access to testing for patients within general practice, where clinically appropriate. 

‘GPs will be better able to diagnose other diseases that present similarly to Covid-19, such as kidney infections, septicaemia and meningitis, if they can access testing for patients within general practice.

‘However, this must be alongside significant expansion to testing capacity, and general practice should not be the first port of call for Covid-19 testing, as this would lead to unmanageable GP workload levels.’

The Royal College of GPs (Main office in London pictured) issued the warning and said GPs needed to be prioritised in the testing regime

The Royal College of GPs (Main office in London pictured) issued the warning and said GPs needed to be prioritised in the testing regime


The NHS is facing nursing crisis with more than 40,000 vacancies and over a third of the workforce considering leaving in the next year, a damning report warns.

The Department of Health does not understand the nursing needs of the NHS and does not know how many nurses are needed, or where and in what specialism, according to MPs.

The public accounts committee (PAC) said the nursing needs of social care is ‘an unaddressed afterthought’, with the number of positions falling by a fifth since 2012.

Stress and burnout have been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis, with 36 per cent of staff considering quitting – up from 28 per cent before the pandemic struck.

The warning comes as a leading health think-tank urged officials to improve working conditions for nurses or face mass shortages.

The King’s Fund said staff stress, absenteeism and turnover in the professions have reached ‘alarmingly high levels’.

Matt Hancock has already announced that, in order to manage demand for tests, there will be a prioritisation list, with doctors and nurses placed at the front of the queue.

In a priority list published on September 21 the Department of Health said: ‘While capacity is at a record high, demand has rapidly increased and is currently above these levels.

‘As we look towards winter, we have set out below those who we intend to test, as well as how and why we will test them.

‘The exact allocation of tests across these key areas is dynamic and may change, as it is based on the latest evidence on risk and demand.’

In ranking order this is how tests will be prioritised:

  1. NHS hospital patients, including all new inpatient admissions 
  2. Care home staff (weekly) and residents (monthly on admission)
  3. NHS staff
  4. Surveillance studies to collect data, and targeted testing at high-risk environments
  5. Teachers who have symptoms
  6. Members of the public with symptoms in areas with high infection rates
  7. Members of the public with symptoms in other areas 

Mr Hancock said: ‘The testing capacity we have is valuable. And we must together prioritise it for the people who need it the most.’

Testing will also be targeted in outbreak areas and teachers will also be given priority.

Among the wider public, people in areas with high incidence will be given priority.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Hancock said testing capacity was at a record high 253,521 but ‘alongside this record expansion, demand has gone up too’.

He told MPs: ‘We need to prioritise the tests on those who need the most to save lives, protect the most vulnerable and make sure our health and care services and our schools can operate safely.


More than 1.3million days of work were lost in the NHS in England due to coronavirus-related sickness over three months, new figures show.

Data from NHS Digital, published today, shows that 1,349,599 full-time equivalent (FTE) days of work were lost to Covid-19 absence between March and May.

This was the equivalent of around 22 per cent of the nearly 6.1million FTE sickness days lost during the period across all staff groups in the NHS in England.

The data showed that during the peak of the outbreak in April there were 690,569 FTE days lost due to Covid-19 – 30.6 per cent of the nearly 2.3million absences recorded that month.

In March there were 318,140 coronavirus-related FTE days lost to absence, 15.9 per cent of total absences, and in May there were 340,890 FTE days lost to Covid, accounting for 18.9 per cent of all absences that month.

NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy Miriam Deakin said it was not clear how many of the absences were avoidable.

She added: ‘These figures show how the real impact of Covid-19 on NHS staff absences continued into the summer even as the initial surge in cases abated.

‘Nearly one in five days lost due to absence during May were Covid-related.

‘Providing a safe environment for staff and patients is an absolute priority for trusts which is why capacity for regular testing is so important.

‘In the absence of regular routine testing for staff and patients, with fast turnaround times, this was clearly a problem early in the summer, and it remains a problem today.’

The London region reported the highest Covid 19-related sickness absences as a proportion of all FTE days lost through absence in both March at 26 per cent and April at 40 per cent, but in May the highest related sickness absence was in the South East at 25.8 per cent.

Professionally qualified clinical employees – including doctors, nurses and ambulance staff – had the most FTE days lost to Covid-19-related sickness with 758,927 across the three-month period.

This accounted for 56 per cent of total FTE days lost to coronavirus during the period across all staff groups.

Of the professionally qualified clinical staff group, nurses had the highest number of FTE days lost to the virus, peaking at 256,053 in April.

The overall sickness absence rate for NHS staff in England in May was 4.7 per cent.

This is down from 6.2 per cent in April, which was the highest level ever seen in the data, which goes back to April 2009.

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