The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh statement on testing of asymptomatic NHS staff, elective surgery and diagnostics

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16 Oct 2020

Since the onset of the pandemic, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh has been calling for NHS staff to be tested for Covid-19 on a regular and rigorous basis. Only in this way can hospitals be secured and made safe for surgery.

Over the past few months, both waiting times and the number of patients waiting for elective surgery have increased and we remain seriously concerned that many more are not seeking vital support for their health conditions. Cancer is of particular worry, with a study involving Queen’s University Belfast with University College London and DATA-CAN estimating that there will be almost 18,000 additional deaths from cancer due to cancelled or delayed treatments, including surgery, during the first lockdown in the spring.

So we need Covid -light treatment and diagnostic areas where the risk of catching or spreading the disease is reduced to its bare minimum. Whilst we, therefore, welcome the news that NHS staff in Tier 3 risk areas will be tested whether they are symptomatic or not, given the ever-increasing numbers of patients waiting for operations it is simply insufficient for such testing to be confined only to these areas with a very high incidence of Covid infections.

Instead, the RCSEd believes this prioritisation needs to be urgently extended to all NHS staff throughout all parts of the UK. Elective operations for diseases such as cancer must continue in as safe an environment as possible as we enter a second wave and clean diagnostic areas created as a matter of urgency. Early diagnosis dramatically increases a patient’s chances of survival, so it is imperative that staff working in diagnostic centres are also tested alongside their hospital counterparts.

The NHS must remain open, and strategic, ruthless, and routine testing of all NHS staff – symptomatic or not – is the only available path to keeping it so.


About The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was founded in 1505.It is the oldest Surgical College in the world with just over 31,000 members in 100 countries, almost half of whom are overseas, touching every stage of the career path from medical student to consultant. We are a family of Surgeons, Dental Surgeons and members of the Surgical and Dental teams who put Patient Safety at the heart of everything they do. Our high quality education and examinations ensure that standards are upheld across all specialities and in all countries.

With our interest in professional standards, the College’s primary role – and the main concern of our Fellows and Members – is to ensure the safety of our patients and provide them with the best possible care. We do this by championing the highest standards of surgical and dental practice; through our provision of courses and educational programmes, training, examinations, and Continuous Professional Development; our liaison with external medical bodies; and by influencing healthcare policy across the UK.

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Issued by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. For further information, please contact

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