Routine Covid tests in English hospitals to be scrapped next week – The Guardian

Move comes despite near doubling in UK Covid deaths this summer compared with same period to last year
Routine Covid tests in English hospitals are to be scrapped next week despite a near doubling in UK deaths from the virus this summer compared with the same period last year.
The move to stop asymptomatic testing in high-risk settings such as hospitals, care comes, prisons and homeless shelters, comes after cuts to funding to deal with Covid were imposed by the Tory leadership contender Rishi Sunak when he was chancellor.
Testing for those displaying Covid symptoms in these settings, including health and social care staff, will continue. Immunocompromised patients in hospitals and care homes will also continue to be tested.
The decision to end asymptomatic testing will alarm many health experts who have cautioned against dismantling the surveillance of Covid while cases remain high.
The latest official figures indicate that deaths caused by the latest Covid wave are on the wane. But more than 5,700 Covid deaths have been registered since 8 June – a 95% increase on same period last year when there were 2,936 deaths involving Covid across the UK.
Routine testing could be reimposed if, as expected, there is surge of new cases in the autumn.
In April, the Guardian revealed that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) advised ministers to suspend regular asymptomatic testing in hospitals and care homes as early as May to save money before a potential winter rise in cases.
At the time sources in the organisation said funding for asymptomatic testing in high risk settings was only enough to cover six months in a year, and senior officials believed it would be better saved for later in the year.
The health secretary, Steve Barclay, confirmed the move would be kept under review. He said: “Thanks to the success of our world-leading vaccination rollout, we are able to continue living with Covid and, from 31 August, we will pause routine asymptomatic testing in most high-risk settings.
“This reflects the fact case rates have fallen and the risk of transmission has reduced, though we will continue to closely monitor the situation and work with sectors to resume testing should it be needed. Those being admitted into care homes will continue to be tested.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser to the UKHSA, said it was safe to scale back testing. She said: “Covid case rates and hospitalisations are on the decline, demonstrating the positive impact of the vaccines, which remain our best form of defence. The data from our surveillance shows prevalence is low and decreasing, and we will continue to monitor this data closely.”
Free testing for the public ended on 1 April as part of the government’s living with Covid plan.
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Covid cases for the last seven days are running at 40,027, when there were 744 deaths and 6,005 hospitalisations.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it expected prevalence of Covid to remain low following the most recent wave but that it would keep the situation under review.
Last week a vaccine designed to target two different forms of Covid was approved by the UK’s regulator. The UK was the first country to approve the bivalent vaccine, known as Spikevax bivalent Original/Omicron, giving the green light for its use as a booster for people over the age of 18.
The DHSC stressed that all of the available boosters provided good protection against severe illness from Covid, and urged people to get a booster in good time before the winter season.


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