The true scale of coronavirus infection in Devon and Cornwall is being ‘hugely underestimated’ because of the chaos in getting people tested, a body representing doctors claims.
People across the region with Covid symptoms are being told to wait for a slot due to a surge in demand and a lack of capacity in the system. Others are being told to travel dozens or even hundreds of miles to a testing station.
Devon Local Medical Committee and Kernow Local Medical Committee (LMC) say they have serious concerns about coronavirus testing capacity across our counties.
In a joint statement they say: “For several weeks there have been either few testing slots available a long way from sick patients – for example Aberdeen or Cardiff – or next to no tests available at all.
“This situation is unacceptable for patients and healthcare workers for several reasons.”
They state the reasons as:
Patients are unlikely to travel long distances when they are ill and this means that many will go untested. Their Covid-19 status will be unknown and the Track and Trace system will not be activated. This may allow further and unregulated spread of the virus for positive cases.
When a healthcare worker or a household member develops symptoms the healthcare worker is unable to attend work to perform their vital duties until a negative test has been received.
Most worryingly the true rate of infection in our area will be hugely underestimated. GPs are increasingly experiencing patients with Covid-like symptoms, with a sharp rise in suspected cases. Due to this under-reporting, patients who are severely vulnerable, such as those that received shielding letters, may be denied the chance to make an informed decision to avoid potential exposure. This could result in serious illness or even death.
The statement is signed by Dr Bruce Hughes and Dr Will Hynds, respective chairs of the committees, which are statutory bodies supporting GPs.
They urge the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to solve the problem quickly. They blame organisation at a national level for the issues.
They said: “We recognise and appreciate the efforts of the local health system to deliver Covid testing, despite being severely hindered by national issues outside its control.
“The local laboratory teams and their swabbing partners continue to offer Covid testing to health and care workers with the limited spare capacity available.
“The Peninsula Pathology NHS Network is actively working with local Public Health teams to set up local testing on a prioritised basis to ensure that swabbing and testing is available as soon as possible.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “NHS Test and Trace is working, our capacity is the highest it has ever been and but we are seeing a significant demand for tests.
“New booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for people with symptoms and we are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, and prioritising at-risk groups.
“Our laboratories are processing more than a million tests a week and we recently announced new facilities and technology to process results even faster.
“If you do not have symptoms and are not eligible to get a test you can continue to protect yourself if you wash your hands, wear a face covering and follow social distancing rules.”