Coronavirus tests could be rationed amid global shortage as number of cases in the UK soars
- Some people are already waiting close to a week for coronavirus test results
- Spokeswoman for Public Health England made clear rationing is being discussed
- Rationing would likely involve younger, healthy people being told to go without
Tests for coronavirus may soon be rationed as the epidemic accelerates and the NHS struggles to cope with demand.
Some people fearful they have the Covid‑19 virus are already waiting close to a week for results, but as suspected cases soar and NHS testing capacity is stretched, health bosses have signalled they are considering limiting tests to those most in need.
A spokeswoman for Public Health England last night insisted the current policy is to test all patients who meet the relevant criteria but made clear rationing is being discussed. ‘The decision to stop testing for symptomatic individuals will be a graded approach. Thresholds [for testing] are under discussion with experts,’ she said.
Health bosses have signalled they are considering limiting tests to those most in need (pictured, someone is tested in Northern Ireland)
An Emergency Department Nurse during a demonstration of the Coronavirus pod and COVID-19 virus testing procedures set-up beside the Emergency Department of Antrim Area Hospital, Co Antrim in Northern Ireland
Rationing would probably involve younger, healthy people who show potential symptoms being told to presume they have the virus. They would be ordered to go home, self-isolate and care for themselves until the illness passes. For the vast majority of healthy under-50s, the virus should be no worse than a bad dose of flu.
Concentrating testing capacity on older people and those with underlying health conditions, who are much more vulnerable to coronavirus, would best enable doctors to identify who needs intensive support.
The number of tests carried out per day has doubled to around 2,000 in the last week and will double again within the coming weeks. Nonetheless, demand is soon expected to exceed capacity. The Mail on Sunday is aware of at least six cases where healthy under-50s have had to endure lengthy waits, either to get a test or for results.
In one, an NHS worker and her daughter who became ill after a half-term Italian ski trip had to wait two days to have a test – and a further five for results.
PHE says ‘prioritisation is not currently in place’ and that it is ‘committed to processing the vast majority of samples within 24 hours’. As of yesterday, 21,254 tests had been carried out across the UK.
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