NHS services are being stretched to unmanageable levels because health service workers are unable to access COVID-19 tests, NHS Providers has said.
The membership organisation for NHS hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services said this week that health service recovery and winter preparations are being hit due to staff and their family members being unable to access a test.
The increase in NHS staff absences because health service staff are having to self-isolate in the absence of a test for either them or their loved ones could worsen as winter pressures increase, NHS Providers said.
The government’s testing system has faced criticism in recent weeks with a surge in demand leading to local shortages.
A spokesman for NHS Providers said that trust leaders are “particularly concerned” about the “lack of appropriate detailed operational information” on the shortages, such as how big they are and how long they will last.
He said it is preventing hospital and healthcare bosses from managing this problem effectively.
Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, said it is “clear” that there are current capacity problems with the testing regime and trust leaders from Bristol, Leeds and London have all raised concerns over the weekend about the lack of availability leading to greater levels of staff absence.
He 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.
“The problem is that NHS trusts are working in the dark – they don’t know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests.
“They need to know all this information so that they can plan accordingly. For example, trusts need to know if they should try to create or re-establish their own testing facilities as quickly as possible.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health & Social care said testing capacity has been targeted at the hardest-hit areas following a rise in demand.