Hard to understand – no mass testing for Covid-19

There is no mass testing for Covid-19. How can you manage an emergency like the Covid-19 pandemic without access to clear, up-to-date information on the number of new cases within the population?

How can you tell whether the measures you are taking are proving effective, whether the objective is containment or delaying the peak of infection?

If you are going to rely on counting the numbers dying, you will only have an indirect indication of the number of infections 2-3 weeks earlier. Is this adequate to deal with a fast-moving situation?

South Korea has shown how it is possible to turn the situation around and one of their key weapons in this fight has been extensive testing of suspected cases. We have just been told that in Scotland there will be some extension of testing soon, to better monitor the situation.

In England, NHS111 does not want even to hear from you unless you are seriously ill or have been in contact with somebody from the infection hotspots.

Two weeks ago, we were being advised that if you developed a cough or sore throat, it was much more likely to be due to one of the usual seasonal viruses, but to self-isolate until the symptoms passed. No attempt to verify the actual cause.

There has recently been a massive reorganisation and centralisation of NHS laboratories, following Lord Carter’s recommendations. It is surely inconceivable that they would have any problem handling the large number of tests that would be required. Or would they?

At a personal level, wouldn’t it be helpful in organising your life and that of your family if you knew for certain that the cough that had been plaguing you for the past week really was due to Covid-19?

That would mean that, once you were better, you would know that you were no longer at risk of a further infection and could return to play a full part in the local economy: keeping your employer from going under; supporting the bars, restaurants and arts venues in your town; visiting and supporting elderly people isolated for fear of infection; manning the depleted health and social care services; continuing to work in schools and prisons, in the knowledge that you were not posing a serious risk to your health or those with which you were coming in contact.

In health matters, certainty is much better than suspicion. Doctors for the NHS calls on the Government to stop sticking their heads in the sand and roll out mass testing as part of their public health strategy.

Colin Hutchinson
Chair, DFNHS

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