NHS trusts are having to "work in the dark" because current testing shortages mean NHS staff have to self-isolate without access to a test for either them or their loved ones.

The staff absences due to a lack of testing ability are taking valuable NHS people away from the frontline where they are needed and also mean that trust leaders are unable to plan for the winter and increasing numbers of Covid cases.

According to NHS Providers, trust leaders are particularly concerned about the lack of appropriate detailed operational information on the shortages, such as how big they are and how long they will last, that is preventing them from managing this problem effectively.

There is also concern about the impact of testing shortages on patients who need to be tested prior to planned hospital treatment. 

Lack of testing availability is leading to greater levels of staff absence.

Chris Hopson, Chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “It’s clear that there are current capacity problems with the testing regime. Trust leaders from Bristol, Leeds and London have all raised concerns over the weekend about the lack of testing availability leading to greater levels of staff absence. It’s not just access for tests for staff members themselves, it’s also access for their family members as NHS workers have to self-isolate if their family members are unable to confirm if they have Covid-19 or not.

“The problem is that NHS trusts are working in the dark – they don’t know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests. They need to know all this information so that they can plan accordingly. For example, trusts need to know if they should try to create or re-establish their own testing facilities as quickly as possible."

NHS providers published a recent survey that showed how concerned trust leaders were about the impact of inadequate testing on their ability to restore services and it’s disappointing that no detailed information on the current problems has been shared. 

Hopson added: "Trust leaders are frustrated that, throughout the pandemic, the government has always seemed more concerned with managing the political implications of operational problems rather than being open and honest about them - shortages of PPE and testing reagents earlier in the pandemic being good examples.

"The Government response has often been to rely on a random, impressive sounding, overall statistic - the number of tests performed or PPE items delivered - or to set out a bold future ambition - a world class test and trace service by June, or a moonshot testing regime at some point next year. Both approaches ignore the operational problem at hand. Neither helps the frontline organisations that actually have to deal with the problem."