Free Covid testing must continue to protect vulnerable – charities

Reports have suggested that free testing could be scrapped.

17 February 2022

Covid-19 testing should continue to be free for all to protect people at severe risk of illness if they get the virus, a group of charities has said.

Speculation has mounted as to whether the Government’s Living With Covid strategy for England will signal an end to free PCR and lateral flow tests.

A coalition of 18 health charities supporting over 500,000 immunocompromised people have called for tests to remain free.

They warned that Covid-19 still poses a serious risk to some people as it set out steps the Government can take to protect them in the Living With Covid plan, which is set to be published on Monday.

The charities warned that abandoning all measures risks making immunocompromised people “second class citizens”.

The charities including the MS Society, Blood Cancer UK and Kidney Care UK, also said that other steps the Government can take include improving communication with immunocompromised people, giving them “smooth and timely” access to Covid treatments and improving employment protection and job support.

The charities highlight how severely immunocompromised people do not get as much protection from vaccines, and many are more likely to suffer severe illness if they catch Covid-19.

Fredi Cavander-Attwood, policy manager at the MS Society, said: “We’re urging the Government to stop ignoring the reality of our communities.

“The Prime Minister must directly and immediately address their concerns as we move to this new phase of the pandemic.

“It is not our goal for blanket restrictions to be reinstated – we simply want all 500,000 immunocompromised people, including some with MS, to be protected and supported to manage their risk so they can live normal lives.

“That’s why the Government’s plan must include sensible, simple measures, like maintaining free testing, strengthening employment protections for people at risk, making sure they get treatment quickly if they get Covid-19 and having a plan for the use of preventative treatments.

“We must all be able to live alongside Covid-19 – and that can’t happen if the Government continues to leave the most vulnerable behind.”

Helen Rowntree, director of research, services and engagement at Blood Cancer UK, added: “While we understand why the Government wants to lift restrictions, this needs to be accompanied by a plan for how they will protect those who are still at risk from the virus.”

Fiona Loud, policy director at Kidney Care UK, added: “Abandoning all measures without preventative treatments, free lateral flow tests, and a duty not to expose immunosuppressed people to Covid unnecessarily risks making us into second class citizens.

“Despite Omicron being a milder illness for the general population, there remains uncertainty about future variants, further impact on higher risk groups; with a record of really poor communication this will make things harder and increase anxiety for people with kidney disease who have already spent two years under Covid-19 stress.”

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