Covid-19: Asymptomatic testing is “paused” in England’s hospitals and care homesBMJ 2022; 378 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o2099 (Published 25 August 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;378:o2099
Regular asymptomatic testing for covid-19 in hospitals, care homes, and hospices in England will be “paused” from 31 August, the Department of Health and Social Care has said.
Testing will also be halted in prisons and detention centres, as well as in domestic abuse refuges and homelessness settings. However, symptomatic testing in all of these high risk settings will continue. The government has said that the move is due to “low” prevalence of covid-19.
The UK Health Security Agency’s chief medical adviser, Susan Hopkins, said, “Covid case rates and hospitalisations are on the decline, demonstrating the positive impact of the vaccines, which remain our best form of defence. The data from our surveillance shows prevalence is low and decreasing, and we will continue to monitor this data closely.”
The government has said that testing will remain in place for admissions to care homes and hospices and for transfers of immunocompromised patients to and within hospitals.
The latest Office for National Statistics data estimate that around one in 40 people in England—nearly 1.5 million—tested positive for covid-19 in the week ending 8 August.1 They also show that deaths this summer involving covid-19 (5043, 10 June to 12 August 2022) have been almost double those seen last summer (2624, 11 June to 13 August 2021).2
Christina Pagel, professor of operational research at University College London, told The BMJ that she thought this was the “wrong move” and did not agree with the government’s classification of the current prevalence as “low.”
“It will increase the spread of covid among patients in hospitals, where many are already vulnerable and can ill afford an additional covid infection,” said Pagel. “It will increase spread of covid to staff, exacerbating staff shortages and putting more staff at risk of severe outcomes, including long covid.”
She added that this would also make it “much harder to track the rise of new variants” and “sends the message that the pandemic is over, when—unfortunately—it isn’t yet.”
Raymond Agius, co-chair of the BMA’s occupational medicine committee, commented, “While case rates may be falling, pausing asymptomatic testing will put both staff and patients at increased risk as they are exposed to more people who have the virus but do not know it.
“Unfortunately, this is a premature announcement from a government that seemingly wants to wish covid-19 away, ignoring the reality that one in 40 people in England currently have the virus, and many remain susceptible to severe effects from it. This is much like the recent appalling decision to remove support for doctors with long covid.”
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