Letter to First Minister of Wales on testing health care workers for presence or previous infection of COVID-19

09 April 2020
9 April 2020

Dear First Minister

I am writing to you as the Director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Wales to ask you to raise the issue of testing of healthcare workers for presence of or previous infection of COVID –19.

The RCN represents over 25,000 registered nurses, nursing students and healthcare support workers in Wales who are currently risking their health to work long and stressful hours in hospitals, care homes and community settings. Our members deserve to know how the Welsh government plans to protect people and have their anxiety and stress reduced by being able to access to latest guidance and plans.

I need to know what plans are in place to test health and social care.

On the 18th March 2020 the Chief Medical Officer issued an alert bulletin advising the NHS on “Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Key changes to testing criteria”.

This contained the following paragraph:

Interim criteria for testing key frontline Healthcare Workers (HCWs)

Providing a negative test result to key frontline HCWs will allow them to return to work much sooner than the 7/14 day self-isolation periods which have been specified. Therefore, based on careful risk assessment, HCWs involved in frontline patient facing clinical care working in the following areas will be considered for testing:

a. Acute Medical Assessment Units
b. Emergency Departments
c. Critical Care Units/Intensive Care Units
d. Primary Care
e. EMS frontline NHS Ambulance staff

On the 5th April 2020 the Welsh government stated: “More than 1,500 tests have been carried out on NHS staff since March 18 – three-quarters of the tests were negative.

The Welsh government statement on the 7th April states: “we have been testing frontline NHS staff for COVID-19 since 7 March”.

The questions I need answering are these:

  1. How many of the tests undertaken have been on registered nurses and nursing staff?
  2. How many of the tests undertaken were on health and social care workers employed out with the NHS? E.g. from care homes?
  3. How do employers of nursing staff or nursing staff as individuals apply or is their a process of invitation?
  4. Do you have an estimated schedule of this testing process?

Our members are telling us of their increasing frustration in not receiving any information on the testing process. It is critical that we act together to provide reassurance. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) provision is directly affected by the lack of testing, as with asymptomatic patients or staff it is unclear whether the individual nurse or HCSW should be wearing PPP or not – and this uncertainty leads to stress.

Our members in care homes are under particular pressure because in homes with a small number of staff, having several staff off work having a negative impact on the care that can be provided to vulnerable older people – and may result in the closure of beds or the home itself and the need to transfer vulnerable patients elsewhere at a time of great pressure on the whole health and social care system.

I would be extremely grateful for a reply to this letter.

Yours sincerely

Helen Whyley, RN MA

Director, RCN Wales

Page last updated - 10/07/2020