A MP claims North Wales has "lagged behind" when it comes to providing rapid Covid testing to frontline NHS staff

Dr James Davies, Vale of Clwyd MP, voiced concern that rapid twice weekly Covid testing for frontline NHS staff is only being rolled out in North Wales this week when “100 per cent” of frontline NHS staff in England already have access to it.

Dr Davies says lateral flow devices (LFDs) are one of the tools being used to help to detect and fight Covid-19 and have been used in other parts of the UK "for weeks".

Since being introduced in other parts of the UK from late November, Dr Davies has been pushing for them to be introduced quickly into hospitals and surgeries in North Wales.

On requesting an update from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) in late December, Dr Davies was told that a “phased roll out will commence on January 11 to all high risk and medium risk areas in the health board”.

Dr Davies questioned the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, in last week’s meeting of the Health and Social Care Committee.

The politician asked what percentage of frontline NHS staff now have access to the twice weekly lateral flow tests and was told it is 100 per cent in England. Dr Davies highlighted to the health secretary that they are yet to be rolled out in North Wales.

Speaking after the meeting, Dr Davies said: "These lateral flow tests have been available to patient-facing staff in most of the UK for some weeks, but sadly once again North Wales is lagging behind, as Welsh Government will not begin rolling them out until this week

“We know that between one in four and one in three people who have coronavirus never show any symptoms but that does not mean they are not infectious. These devices can help identify people who are infected with the virus but do not have symptoms and would not otherwise be coming forward for a test.

"I have been pushing for them not only for frontline NHS staff in North Wales, but also for loved ones of those in care homes and parents of children in hospital.

“Alone they are not a silver bullet for stopping the spread of the virus, but they can test large numbers of individuals in a rapid and timely manner, and if used in combination with other vital infection prevention control measures, such as wearing appropriate PPE, washing hands regularly and social distancing, they are another tool to keep us all safer.

"It is therefore vital that they are rolled out across the region as quickly as possible.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are moving quickly to implement a routine testing programme for all public-facing health and social care workers across Wales with rapid lateral flow test devices twice per week.”

The Welsh Government said the programme to introduce testing for health and social care workers began rolling out on December 14.

Testing has been phased in for the following workers: clinical health staff (doctors, nurses and allied health professionals) and those working with high-risk groups such as haematology staff working with transplant patients; non-clinical staff including porters, cleaning staff, catering staff and volunteers and social care workers, including domiciliary care workers, social workers and inspectors visiting care homes and other social care settings.

Vaughan Gething, Wales' health minister, said in December 2020 that routine testing of asymptomatic frontline health and social care staff would be starting and lateral flow tests would be made available to test frontline health and social care workers twice weekly.

He added: "We will begin rolling out the programme for these groups from December 14 2020, starting with those working in services with high risks of transmission, and introducing in lower risk settings in January.

"We will also be introducing regular asymptomatic testing of staff working in hospice inpatient units and those delivering hospice at home services."

On January 10, the UK Government said that rapid, regular testing for people without symptoms of coronavirus will be made available to all local authorities in England to test people who cannot work from home.

Dr Davies has made enquiries to determine whether the Welsh Government will be providing similar.

He added: “As the health secretary has stated, targeted asymptomatic testing and subsequent isolation is highly effective in breaking chains of transmission. It is therefore imperative that we use all such tools available to us.”