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All East Kent Hospitals Trust staff to be tested for Covid-19 as coronavirus death rate remains highest in country

Nine thousand staff at a hospitals trust suffering more Covid-19 deaths than any other in England are to be tested for coronavirus in a five-day blitz, it has emerged.

The East Kent Hospitals Trust has today revealed it is "rapidly accelerating" its programme of testing in a bid to reduce the transmission risk across its sites in Ashford, Margate, Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone.

The William Harvey Hospital in Ashford
The William Harvey Hospital in Ashford

The trust says all members of staff will be tested within the next five days, including those who have been recently screened.

It comes as new figures reveal more people are continuing to die with coronavirus in its hospitals than any others in the country.

This month alone 25 people have lost their lives after contracting the virus - equal to 9% of all deaths recorded nationally and 10 more than at hospitals in Leicester, which is currently subjected to a local lockdown because of the high number of new cases.

Just one other trust in the country has recorded more than 10 deaths over the same period.

The trend is not new; during the last week in June, 21 Covid-19 deaths were reported at the trust's hospitals – almost double that of any other trust in England.

The QEQM hospital in Margate
The QEQM hospital in Margate

It has been speculated that in-hospital transmission has been a major factor in high infection rates across east Kent, particularly in Ashford.

This theory - although not yet confirmed by health chiefs - appears to have been supported by KCC's director of public health, Andrew Scott-Clark.

Earlier this week, he said: "We have seen a number of infections in care settings and these are being effectively managed but we have not seen any evidence of any widespread community transmission of Covid-19 and there are currently no plans to introduce any lockdowns specifically in these areas."

The rapid staff testing programme will be seen as further evidence that in-hospital transmission has been an issue for the trust.

NHS England and NHS Improvement are currently working to strengthen the trust's ability to prevent and control the spread of infection - by providing the expertise of a specialist nurse and additional training for staff.

The trust says it is also limiting the number of people on its sites, enforcing the wearing of face masks at all times in the hospitals, carrying out temperature checks at entrances and testing asymptomatic patients regularly whilst they are in hospital.

Its Chief Medical Officer Dr Rebecca Martin said: “It’s important that our patients and staff have confidence that we are doing all we can to keep them, and those close to them, safe while they are in our care whether they being treated for Covid or using other services at the Trust.

"The combination of this testing programme to help identify and isolate any asymptomatic staff and ensuring the highest possible standards of infection prevention and control are critical to this.”

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