NHS Tells Hospitals To Test All In-Patients For Covid-19, Including Those Without Symptoms

Exclusive: new NHS England move affects adults and children in all wards, from A&E to maternity

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NHS chiefs have asked all hospitals across England to test every single in-patient for Covid-19, even if they don’t show symptoms, HuffPost UK can reveal.

National medical director Stephen Powis and chief nursing officer Ruth May have jointly written to NHS trust chief executives to implement the new policy to help support more “effective management” of the virus on wards.

The advice means that all in-patients, from A&E units to maternity units and other wards, will be tested. Adults, children and even new born babies will all have to be ‘swabbed’.

In a letter sent to trusts in England this weekend, Powis and May said that they were “asking you to expand testing to all non-elective patients admitted into your organisations that require a bed overnight, effective from Monday 27th April or before”.

“This includes patients who are asymptomatic. This should include making preparations to cohort patients as possible COVID cases who need to be admitted whilst they await a test result,” the letter states.

“Appropriate infection prevention control recommendations must then be followed. Where this isn’t immediately possible, you should work to put this in place as soon as possible.”

One NHS trust in London has already told staff that from Monday the new practice will mean “swabbing” every category of in-patient, including those who are admitted via accident and emergency units.

All pregnant women will be swabbed on arrival, and once they have given birth their babies will be swabbed too. All patients due to stay overnight on any ward will also be swabbed.

HuffPost UK

The move comes as the government faces the steep challenge of trebling its daily testing figures by Thursday to hit the 100,000-a-day target set by Matt Hancock at the start of April.

Government sources insist the expanded hospital testing should not be seen as an attempt to hit that target, as NHS England has its own separate target of 25,000 test capacity per day.

One government insider told HuffPost UK the plan was to roll out the practice at other hospitals, at least for A&E departments at first.

“Giving the increasing capacity, we are able to take necessary action to widen eligibility and make sure the people who need tests most can have one,” they said.

“And testing all admissions for coronavirus is an effective way of [practising] infection control.”

One added benefit could be that more of the public are encouraged to turn up to accident and emergency units with the reassurance of being tested.

At present, A&E admissions are severely down on normal levels, and there are concerns people may be too scared to turn up to hospital even if they have serious conditions that need treatment.

A note to staff at one London trust, dated Monday April 29, sets out how “from today ALL patients admitted to the hospital are to be swabbed for Covid-19 regardless of whether they are symptomatic or not”.

All patients both adults and children admitted via the A&E department will be swabbed in the department.

All transfers from other hospitals or those admitted directly to wards will be swabbed on admission including children of all ages.

Health secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus.
Health secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus.

Hancock set the ambitious target of 100,000 tests per day and has just four days left in the month to meet it. He admitted on Monday evening that the government has a “lot of work” to do to achieve the goal he set out.

Just under 30,000 tests were conducted on Sunday, with the capacity of PHE and other labs standing at more than 51,000 per day.

The health secretary also announced on Monday that non-urgent hospital treatments would be gradually restored across England as the NHS was able to use its extra capacity built up to deal with Covid-19 patients.

Among the moves to increase the rate are more mobile labs, more drive-through centres for key workers and a new website that allows the public to request tests they can conduct themselves at home.

Massively increased testing would pave the way for a ‘test, track and trace’ strategy - used successfully in countries like South Korea - to keep coronavirus suppressed once the government is sure that its lockdown has done enough to prevent a second wave of the disease.

On his first day back in Downing Street after recovering from the virus, Boris Johnson said that the was now “beginning the turn the tide” but warned that lifting stay-at-home restrictions too early could prompt a “new wave of death”.


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