Let me be clear from the outset. I am not against regular testing of NHS staff. I am in favour of NHS staff testing policy as advised by the Chief Medical Officer.
NHS staff, care workers and other medical professionals are on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus, and I greatly admire their dedication, skill and professionalism.
They deserve to be tested in the most appropriate way, to reflect the specific situations they face. And that is what is happening. The approach on the testing of NHS staff has been determined by clinical experts, including the Chief Medical Officer, and the NHS has now set out plans for how it will work. This includes continuing to prioritise testing of all NHS staff with symptoms, regular testing of asymptomatic staff in situations where there is an incident or outbreak, and regular surveillance testing across staff. The Government is continually reviewing clinical evidence to ensure regular testing of staff without symptoms is undertaken where appropriate.
Over recent months, we have significantly increased our testing capacity in this country – we are now able to carry out more than 200,000 tests a day – which means that we can ensure all NHS and care staff are prioritised for regular testing.
As I hope you would understand, the government is taking a targeted approach to this testing, so that it is focused on the most high-risk areas. Clinical advice is to focus intensive asymptomatic testing in those areas or settings identified to have a high prevalence. Staff working with patients onwards, for example, will benefit from regular testing far more than NHS staff working in offices or administrative roles where they do not come into regular contact with patients. This approach is crucial as, when the prevalence of the virus is very low, the risk of misleading results is higher. This can undermine the value of testing.
I have regular conversations with the Chief Executive of the Bucks NHS Trust, as I have done from the beginning of the crisis, and know that there is a very thorough and robust testing regime in place for NHS staff in my constituency.
The suggestion that I voted against testing for NHS staff is therefore misleading. You are referring to a motion that was put forward by the Labour party after an Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons. This was, frankly, designed to play politics with NHS staff and the coronavirus crisis, and I find it disappointing, to say the very least, that Labour thinks this is the right way to behave at a moment of national emergency.
As explained above, the government is absolutely committed to testing for NHS staff. There is a massive programme underway. It follows the advice of the Chief Medical Officer. I trust his judgement on what is the right way to proceed far more than that of opposition parties, not least because his view is clinically-informed and motivated by the health needs of our excellent staff providing a frontline service.
We will continue to support NHS staff throughout this pandemic, ensuring they have access to the equipment, tests and support they need as they continue to control the virus and save lives.