Vaughan Gething MS, Minister for Health and Social Services
Testing continues to play a pivotal role in our overall approach to preventing the transmission of COVID-19 across Wales alongside other measures including the impact of safe and effective vaccines. I want to take the opportunity to inform Members of our plans under our ‘Test to Maintain’ priority in our refreshed Testing Strategy to support workplace testing.
Regular testing of staff in the workplace increases surveillance to identify asymptomatic cases faster. Testing can support other critical measures (such as social distancing) to help reduce the spread of the virus and maintain services. We have started the roll out of regular testing of the health and social care workforce and for staff working with the more vulnerable including settings such as special schools. This involves around 160,000 staff having access to twice weekly lateral flow tests. We are also under out ‘Test to Maintain’ priority extending lateral flow testing to staff working in childcare settings, schools and further education in addition to higher education. This involves a further 95,000 staff having access to regular testing.
We are also working with UK Government on extending workplace testing to other public and private organisations with over 50 employees to set up workplace test sites and deliver more workforce testing.
I am today publishing a workplace testing framework that sets out the criteria and support available. The framework also sets out ground rules that we have worked up with our National Health and Safety Forum and I am grateful for their input. It is essential that testing is used responsibly and that public health officials, trade unions and workers are fully involved in any roll-out of workplace testing.
The framework focuses on regular testing of employees to find and isolate positive cases quickly, that usually includes the workforce being tested once or twice a week in workplaces that have:
- higher exposure to risk;
- involve close proximity to others;
- over 50 employees that cannot work from home; and
- deliver and maintain key services for the public.
We are still evaluating and reviewing the pilots in TATA and South Wales Police that involved Daily Contact Testing (previously referred to as serial testing). This involves testing contacts of positive cases on a daily basis for 7 days as an alternative to self-isolation. Following review of the findings including evaluation of pilots operating in England we will consider our position on agreeing further schemes in Wales. In the meantime, I have agreed that Welsh residents who cross the border for work and attend an institution in England should be able to participate in any pilot Daily Contact Testing schemes offered by the institution provided these are agreed by the Welsh Government in line with the self-isolation regulations. This will include us being more involved in the evaluation process for these pilots including cross border issues.
I am also aware employers have also introduced their own internal testing programmes outside of the Testing Programme schemes supported by UK and Welsh Governments. Whilst it is a voluntary decision for employers to run testing programmes for their staff, it is essential that employers must make sure that the test kit they or their provider is procuring is legal in the UK, either through having the CE mark or an exemption.
Test kits in the UK are regulated by the MHRA, which is responsible for administering and enforcing the law on medical devices in the UK. It has a range of investigatory and enforcement powers to ensure their safety and quality. In order for NHS Test, Trace, Protect to undertake contact tracing, anyone with COVID-19 symptoms and/or a positive lateral flow test result from an internal testing programme is asked to book a test and required to self-isolate. I have asked officials to further develop guidance and consider if changes are required in regulations in relation to reporting of private testing, especially in the context of the development of new technology and tests.