Routine Covid-19 testing has ended for most nurses and patients in England, the government has announced.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) revealed that from April 1 2023, routine lateral flow testing would be stopped across and health care settings, even if patients or staff had Covid-19 symptoms.
“Those receiving health and care services and many staff remain at risk of serious outcomes following Covid-19 infection”
Testing has been scaled back as part of government plans on “living with Covid-19” and as the severity and impact of the virus on the NHS has reduced, said the government agency.
Under the new measures, symptomatic and asymptomatic Covid-19 testing will no longer be available for staff and patients in health and care settings minus some exceptions.
The groups that will still be able to test include NHS staff with symptoms who are working on inpatient wards with severely immunosuppressed patients, and those with symptoms who work in hospices.
Testing will also continue for people in the community and residents in care settings if they have symptoms and are in a vulrenable group that is eligible for Covid-19 treatment, to speed up access to treatment.
In addition, some hospital patients with symptoms will be tested if it will inform decisions such as ward transfers.
Similarly, all patients who are being discharged from hospitals into care settings will be able to test.
The latest changes come after routine asymptomatic testing of staff and patients was paused in August 2022.
The UKHSA said that testing capacity would be retained so that it could be scaled up again if a new coronavirus wave or variant resulted in significantly increased pressure on the NHS.
Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of UKHSA, said: “Fewer people now experience severe illness due to Covid-19, due to vaccinations, infection-related immunity and treatments for those who need them and the risk of hospitalisation has decreased overall.
“This means we are now able to further bring our testing programmes in line with management of other viral infections whilst still maintaining focus on those at highest risk to protect them from the virus.”
“Thankfully we are now able to scale back our testing programme”
According to latest government figures, between 19 March and 25 March 2023, 27,583 people had confirmed a positive coronavirus test result – a decrease of 7.2% compared to the previous seven days.
Meanwhile, there were 7,963 patients in hospital with coronavirus on 29 March 2023, and 192 coronavirus patients in hospital beds were on mechanical ventilation.
Responding to the announcement, the Royal College of Nursing’s health, safety and wellbeing national officer, Kim Sunley, said: “While society adjusts to the long-term presence and implications of Covid-19, preventing infection remains a core patient and staff safety concern.
“Those receiving health and care services and many staff remain at risk of serious outcomes following Covid-19 infection.”
Ms Sunley added that staff should be “supported by their managers” to comply with infection prevention and control guidance.
In addition, nurses and other staff “should not work if they are unwell”, including if they have symptoms of respiratory illness, said Ms Sunley.
The health and social care secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “Testing was crucial to our response during the height of the pandemic, and our successful vaccination programme has protected the most vulnerable, saved thousands of lives, and has helped us all to live with Covid.
“Thankfully we are now able to scale back our testing programme while remaining committed to ensuring those at highest risk and more prone to severe illness get the protection they need.”