The government needs a clear strategy on testing to prevent a second wave of coronavirus infections, doctors have said.
The Royal College of GPs said it was not confident in the government’s current testing strategy and accusing ministers of an “arbitrary focus on numbers” and targets.
In a letter to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, the RCGP chair, Prof Martin Marshall, also raised concerns about the accuracy and timing of test results.
He acknowledged that improvements have been made, but said a clear and comprehensive plan was needed to stop a second wave of cases.
Marshall wrote: “We do not believe that there is sufficient clarity on a joined-up comprehensive testing strategy to prevent a second wave of infections and to secure the overall health of the population.
“As we ease lockdown over the coming weeks and months, it is essential that the profession and patients have full confidence in the approach to test, track and trace.”
Marshall said a joint approach was required between the NHS, social care and community care, including care homes, which he said were on the frontline of the pandemic.
“In the absence of a clear strategy and with delays in social care planning, patients have been left vulnerable,” he said. “I am sure you will agree that now is the time to move beyond an arbitrary focus on numbers and targets and ensure that our loved ones in vulnerable settings are given particular protection.”
Marshall stressed the importance of confidence in the testing strategy from both the healthcare profession and the general public as the government moves to ease parts of the lockdown.
He said the government needed to inform the public clearly about the importance of test, track and trace and other measures that will accompany the NHS Covid-19 tracking app, and provide GPs with clear guidance on how to get patients tested.
The RCGP was also aware of concerns from healthcare workers about the accuracy and timing of some test results, he said. “We know that the distances that tests are travelling to labs and the wait time for results is undermining confidence in the process and results themselves.
“Any testing strategy must therefore commit to building confidence in the process, including a commitment to improving the sensitivity and specificity of the tests.”
Sir Mark Walport, the chief executive of UK Research and Innovation and a former government chief scientific adviser, said test, track and trace was vital, because a second wave was considered a very real possibility.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “It is a combination of people being really careful about how they behave coupled with identifying cases as early and as rigorously by testing as possible, and then working out who their contacts have been and making sure that they do isolate themselves.
“As measures are taken to relax social distancing, they have got to be taken very, very cautiously indeed. There is no question that the prospect of a second wave does exist. That is undoubtedly the case. It will continue to exist while there are a significant number of cases out there.”