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Patients should not have to pay for lateral flow tests, says Northern Ireland doctor

Testing regime under review as English officials add several new Covid symptoms

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Throughout the pandemic, the UK public has been told a new, continuous cough, fever and loss of taste or smell are signs of a coronavirus infection. Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Throughout the pandemic, the UK public has been told a new, continuous cough, fever and loss of taste or smell are signs of a coronavirus infection. Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Getty Images

Throughout the pandemic, the UK public has been told a new, continuous cough, fever and loss of taste or smell are signs of a coronavirus infection. Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Questions are mounting over whether people will have to pay to see their GP once free lateral flow tests are scrapped in Northern Ireland.

The Department of Health has said the testing regime is being kept under review as it emerged officials in England have added a raft of symptoms of a potential Covid-19 infection.

Throughout the pandemic, the UK public has been told a new, continuous cough, fever and loss of taste or smell are signs of a coronavirus infection.

However, shortness of breath, unexplained tiredness, lack of energy, muscle aches or pains not due to exercise, not wanting to eat or not feeling hungry, headache that is unusual, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, diarrhoea, or feeling or being sick have been added to the list of symptoms on the UK Government website.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

There are concerns over the addition of symptoms as health officials consider scaling back the availability of tests to the general public in the coming months.

Dr Alan Stout, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee in Northern Ireland, has said it would be unacceptable to expect the public or GP surgeries to cover the cost of LFTs in future.

As it stands, patients wanting to attend their GP surgery in Northern Ireland and who may have Covid are expected to take a test beforehand to rule out infection.

It is understood the system is under review ahead of any potential changes to the testing regime here which could see patients collecting LFTs from their GP surgery before an appointment.

However, it is believed a final decision has been made on the matter.

“Under no circumstance should GPs be expected to pay for their patients to take Covid tests and patients shouldn’t have to pay for an LFT to access healthcare facilities,” said Dr Stout.

“That would only add to health inequalities in that people who can afford to pay to have tests would be able to attend appointments.

“Given the stretch in the cost of living, we would be concerned there will be an increasing number of people who won’t be able to go and buy LFTs.

“There will have to be a mechanism in place to address this because healthcare settings can’t allow patients to attend if they might have Covid; we have to protect staff and other patients, many of them are extremely vulnerable to the virus.”

Sinn Fein health spokesman Colm Gildernew said: “It is counter-productive that people would have to pay for LFTs.

“Covid is still in the community and testing is necessary to protect people from the spread of the virus.

“People are already struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and having to pay for LFTs is an additional cost which many people will simply be unable to afford.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said Northern Ireland’s current official advice on Covid-19 is detailed on NI Direct.

She said the website already acknowledges that symptoms “may vary and may not be limited to the three central symptoms identified at the outset of the pandemic” although it does not list any of the additional symptoms listed on the UK Government website.

According to NI Direct, anyone with any of the “main” Covid-19 symptoms should get a PCR test as soon as possible and should self-isolate until a negative result is received.

The departmental spokeswoman continued: “Covid PCR and LFTs are still available free to the general public in Northern Ireland.

“People in Northern Ireland with one of the three original symptoms of Covid (cough, temperature or loss of smell and taste) are still advised to stay at home and book a PCR test.

“These continue to be available to everyone in Northern Ireland up to April 22.

“If you have other symptoms of a respiratory virus, such as runny nose, sore throat or headache, you can take a LFT.

“Even if you don’t have Covid, your symptoms may be caused by another respiratory virus such as rhinovirus which can be easily passed on to others.

“It is therefore advisable to stay at home if you can and reduce contact with others when you have respiratory virus symptoms to avoid spreading infection to others.”

On Monday, Northern Ireland recorded just 903 cases, although this is likely as a result of fewer people reporting positive test results.

Six further deaths linked to the virus were recorded, while there were 10 Covid-19 ICU patients in hospitals across Northern Ireland.


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