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The NHS should routinely test people for illnesses such as seasonal flu once the coronavirus pandemic has passed, Matt Hancock has said, adding that he wants to end the UK’s culture of “soldiering on” and going to work while ill, infecting others.
Giving evidence to a Commons committee hearing, the health secretary said the mass testing capacity built up to deal with Covid could be repurposed to detect illnesses such as influenza, and thus limit the community spread of these as a routine intervention.
Hancock said he wanted “this massive diagnostics capacity to be core to how we treat people in the NHS” in the long term.
“Having built this, we must hold on to it,” Hancock told a joint session of the health and science committees. “And afterwards we must use it not just for coronavirus, but everything.
“In fact, I want to have a change in the British way if doing things, where if in doubt, get a test. It doesn’t just refer to coronavirus, but to any illness that you might have.”
Hancock told the hearing, part of an inquiry by the two committees into the lessons of how the UK has dealt with coronavirus, that he hoped to oversee a longer-term reduction in non-Covid respiratory and other communicable diseases dealt with by the NHS.
A key part of this, he said, was persuading people to not risk infecting others when clearly ill. He said: “Why, in Britain, do we think it’s acceptable to soldier on and go into work if you have flu symptoms or a runny nose, thus making your colleagues ill? I think that’s something that is going to have to change.
“In future, I hope, if you have flu-like symptoms, you should get a test for it, and find out what’s wrong with you, and if you need to stay at home to protect others, then you should stay at home.
“We are peculiarly unusual, and outliers, in soldiering on and still going to work, it kind of being the culture that as long as you can get out of bed you still should get into work. That should change.”
Questioned by Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, who now chairs the health committee, Hancock said it was possible that some social distancing measures could remain as vaccines are rolled out, until it could be determined how effective the vaccines were at preventing not just symptoms but also transmission.
Hancock added: “After Easter we think that we will be getting back to normal.” Some elements of coronavirus, such as frequent hand washing, were likely to “become commonplace” in the long term, he argued.
In sometimes testy exchanges between the health secretary and his predecessor, Hunt quizzed Hancock over the quality of scientific advice he received, and why the UK did not initially begin mass community testing.
Hancock appeared to partly blame Exercise Cygnus, a 2016 government exercise to model a possible pandemic. Planned when Hunt was health secretary, it took place shortly after he had moved to become foreign secretary.
Hancock said one key problem with the initial response to coronavirus was that Cygnus took as its starting point the idea of a new flu virus already being widespread in the population.
“What it didn’t ask was the prior question of what type of pandemic is most likely; what are the different characteristics of different pandemics, flu or coronavirus being two obvious examples, and can we act to stop getting to the position at which Project Cygnus started off?” Hancock said.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Matt Hancock wants to use NHS testing system to fight flu after Covid | Coronavirus