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One third of NHS staff and key workers tested in the UK have coronavirus, amid concerns over access to protective equipment

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By Rob Picheta for CNN in London

A third of NHS staff and key workers who have been tested for coronavirus in the UK have returned positive results, new British government data shows.

According to figures released Monday, 16,888 people who fall into the category of “key workers and their households,” and who have shown symptoms or live with symptomatic people, have been tested. So far, 5,733 — or 34 percent — were confirmed to have the virus.Health workers who are not symptomatic and do not live with people who are do not meet the UK’s criteria for testing, so the number is not necessarily representative of all workers.

The government has been under intense pressure to ramp up testing for NHS workers and their families, and to improve their access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously said that the ultimate goal is to provide testing to all NHS workers regardless of symptoms.

But the level of testing in the UK remains drastically lower than several European countries. Responding to criticism over the rate, Hancock said on April 2 he would increase the number from 10,000 to 100,000 tests per day by the end of the month — saying he was “determined we’ll get there”.On April 12, however, only 14,506 tests were conducted according to his Health Department, suggesting the government is significantly behind that goal.

On the issue of equipment, meanwhile, Hancock said Sunday that the government was “working night and day to make sure that we get the right PPE.”At least 19 NHS workers battling the coronavirus pandemic have died, and numerous associations representing medical workers have complained that they have not been provided with enough PPE to safely treat Covid-19 patients.

On Monday, the Royal College of Nursing issued guidance that staff were entitled to refuse to work if they did not feel comfortable doing so: “If the employer does not provide appropriate PPE and a safe working environment, as an employee you can refuse to care for a patient.”The union emphasized that this should be a “last resort,” and that “you must be able to justify your decision as reasonable, so keep a written record of the safety concerns that led you to withdraw treatment.”

Donna Kinnair, the union’s chief executive, told the BBC on Saturday that British nurses do not have adequate protection.”My inbox, on a daily basis, this is the number one priority that nurses are bringing to my attention — that they do not have adequate supplies of PPE equipment,” she said.

CNN’s Simon Cullen contributed reporting

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