A London council is thought to be the first in the country to set up its own same-day Covid testing service for key workers, side-stepping the current system over delays in getting tests and results.
Barking & Dagenham council in east London said it had acted because of concerns about delays in accessing tests at the NHS testing sites in the borough. NHS testing centres are run by 40 private and public companies overseen by Deloitte, which said it is “supporting the creation of the testing programme”.
Barking & Dagenham council leader, Darren Rodwell, told the Guardian that current delays in people getting tested and receiving their results caused problems in schools, care homes and among frontline workers.
He said that people who have been in contact with someone who might have Covid who then have to self-isolate for a significant amount of time while they wait for the person suspected of having Covid to get a test and get the results has a significant knock on effect on the delivery of council services.
“Some of these tests take forever and then we have to do things like get in supply teachers while teachers are self-isolating not knowing if they have been in contact with an infected person or not. That can be expensive.”
The council is writing to approximately 7,000 frontline workers – school staff, care workers, refuse collectors and other key workers – letting them know that from the first week of November they can take part in a six-week pilot Covid testing scheme running up to Christmas and operating at a former council depot – Pondfield House.
Council officials hope that with Covid cases predicted to rise in the coming weeks this new initiative could slow that increase.
Rodwell said: “One resident contacted us yesterday and said they had been told there was an eight-day wait just to get a test at one of the testing sites in the borough. Our priority here are the young, the old and our essential services. We want to keep schools running, keep our old people who are vulnerable alive and ensure that vital services like refuse collection are not disrupted.
“Many people of all different political persuasions are concerned that the testing system hasn’t worked. All our essential workers will get a same day test if they need one and a quick turnaround result, we hope in 12-24 hours.”
The council is also working on track and trace because of concerns that that is not working as well as it could. Several other councils including Sandwell, Preston and Hull are doing the same. The organisation We Own It which wants to see public services remain in public hands, has been mapping councils which have set up their own track and trace systems.
They have sent a letter to Matt Hancock signed by more than 80 public figures calling for the track and trace system to be managed by local authorities. The letter heavily criticises the current national contact tracing system in England
Among the signatories are leaders of councils across England including Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green councils, directors of public health represented by Unite’s public health specialist committee, and members of parliament.
We Own It’s campaigns officer, Pascale Robinson, said: “The number of coronavirus cases is rising rapidly. People are rightly worried about what this means for public health and for further lockdown style restrictions. If we’re to get out of this safely, to save lives and hug our loved ones again, we desperately need a test, track and trace system that works. The government’s decision to outsource the system and side step the experience of local public health protection teams was a catastrophic mistake.”
Deloitte has been approached for comment.