Dr MAX PEMBERTON blasts Government over lack of coronavirus testing

Like so many medics I’m stuck at home with just a cough. This is madness: Dr MAX PEMBERTON blasts Government over lack of coronavirus testing for NHS workers

  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

One in four NHS doctors is currently sitting at home, unable to work because they or someone they’re living with is displaying symptoms of coronavirus.

For any doctor living through a public health crisis such as this, that is incredibly frustrating. And I should know: I’m stuck at home myself.

Yesterday, at work, I suddenly developed a cough. I’m pretty confident it’s not Covid-19 – I don’t have a fever or sort throat; and to me, this feels much more like a typical upper respiratory tract infection.

But the symptoms of coronavirus can vary greatly. Given the incredibly sick people I work with, I couldn’t risk it and was ordered home by a manager. So I’m sitting here, trying to work remotely, while the ward I was covering is woefully understaffed with just one junior doctor. Everyone else is at home.

A sign saying ‘Thank You NHS’ is displayed as people shop in Manchester during the lockdown

One of the senior doctors in my service is self-isolating because her daughter – who has asthma – also had a cough. She is as sure as she can be that there’s nothing seriously wrong, but as her daughter can’t be tested, she has had to stay off work for 14 days.

Another friend, a surgeon, also had to spend 14 days off, along with her husband who is a surgeon too, purely because their son had a fever for just one day. They were being driven to distraction by sitting at home with absolutely no symptoms, while their colleagues were almost overwhelmed by their workload.

The situation really is terrible: Recently, out of my trust’s 184 doctors, over 50 were stuck in self-isolation with minor symptoms. This week, the membership organisation NHS Providers said that as many as 85 per cent of the staff self-isolating at home may not have the virus.

Although this was based on a small-scale study, it suggests there are potentially tens of thousands of staff who could and should – as soon as it is shown to be safe – go back to the front-line.

None of us wants to be watching the epidemic unfold on TV from our living rooms: We became doctors to help patients. But thanks to well-meant fears around public safety and saving lives, anyone with symptoms similar to those of Covid-19 must stay at home for seven days, and anyone living with a symptomatic person must self-isolate for 14 days.

It’s a simple fact, however, that many of the thousands of doctors now stuck at home with mild symptoms probably do not have coronavirus.

This means that, just as the NHS has become more stretched and understaffed than at any time in its recent history, doctors like me have been told to sit at home, effectively to twiddle our thumbs, while our colleagues work night and day trying to put out the fire lit by this virus.

In the long run, the Government’s approach risks toppling our very NHS, as more and more staff showing mild symptoms are sent home, away from the front-line where they are so desperately needed. That is why testing far more people is so vital and must be rolled out urgently.

Ambulance crews and military personnel await the first patients at the ExCel centre in London

In my work, I’ve seen barely any testing for coronavirus at all. NHS officials promised weeks ago to increase testing to 10,000 a day – but numbers have fallen far short. Only 2,000 front-line NHS staff who are off work because of Covid-19 symptoms have been tested, according to Downing Street.

Even more frustrating is that when the Government has been asked about this – repeatedly – at daily press briefings, it hasn’t given a clear answer as to why this hasn’t happened yet.

There have been concerns that some tests for coronavirus can provide ‘false negatives’ – meaning they wrongly give the all-clear. But one quick way round this is to test the same person two or three times: Repeat testing reduces the risk of getting the wrong result.

As the Daily Mail’s campaign makes clear, they must sort this out as soon as possible. The country’s health depends on it.

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