More than a million people have signed a petition calling for NHS staff to be prioritised for coronavirus testing so they can continue to work.
Junior doctor Rebecca McCauley, who started the petition to health secretary Matt Hancock, said all NHS workers, including cleaners who are “the unsung heroes”, are facing a dilemma at work.
She said it is common to get a cough in March, but as they would not know if it is COVID-19 without a test they have to either stay off work for seven days or go to work and potentially spread coronavirus to sick patients.
Dr McCauley said: “Currently, tests are only being done on patients who require hospital admission.
“This virus will cause minor symptoms for most people, and relatively young and healthy staff are most likely to fall into that category.
“The issue is the patients we treat are not healthy, they are frail and vulnerable.
“Ask yourself this – if your loved one needs hospital care for a condition not related to COVID-19, would you want them to be treated by staff who are likely infected with it?
“If not, please help us out here.”
The petition reached a million signatures on Thursday evening, with many more continuing to add their support.
At the same time, Boris Johnson vowed to step up daily testing from the current 5,000 a day “to 10,000, to 25,000 and then 250,000” – but did not say who would be tested.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said his next priority was NHS workers.
He said he “completely” understood concerns about a lack of public protective equipment (PPE) for staff but did not clarify if testing would be prioritised for NHS staff.
Tens of thousands of retired doctors and nurses were asked on Thursday to return to work to help the NHS through the crisis, while final-year medical and nursing students are being offered temporary work to ease the burden.
NHS staff and the general public who have signed the petition applauded Dr McCauley for asking for prioritised testing.
Amanda Henshaw said: “I am a nurse and my priority is to protect patients and families. I need to know if I am safe to work.”
“This is just total common sense – incredible someone has to start a petition to get it done,” Anne Callaghan, whose comment was liked by more than 400 people, said.
Jane Powell added: “They are putting themselves at risk day in day out, that’s the very least we can do.”
Mr Johnson also announced on Thursday the government is planning to purchase hundreds of thousands of antibody tests to detect if somebody has had coronavirus.
By doing antibody tests it means those who test positive can then return to society and it will mean estimates of how many people will be affected can be refined.
By Thursday afternoon there were 3,269 confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK, and 144 deaths.
The Department of Health said 64,621 people have been tested, with 61,352 confirmed negative.