London council sets up own same-day Covid testing service

Diane Taylor
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

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, sidestepping the nationwide system over delays in getting tests and results.

Barking and 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 has described its role as “supporting the creation of the testing programme”.

(September 1, 2020)  Boris Johnson

“Not only are we getting the pandemic under control, with deaths down and hospital admissions way, way down, but we will continue to tackle it, with local lockdowns and with our superlative test-and-trace system.”

(September 9, 2020)  Boris Johnson

“NHS Test and Trace is doing a heroic job, and today most people get an in-person test result within 24 hours, and the median journey is under 10 miles if someone has to take a journey to get one … [To Keir Starmer] We make the tough calls – all he does is sit on the sidelines and carp.”

(September 9, 2020)  Boris Johnson

[On the ‘moonshot’ proposal for mass, near-instant testing:] “We are hopeful this approach will be widespread by the spring and, if everything comes together, it may be possible even for challenging sectors like theatres to have life much closer to normal before Christmas.”

(September 16, 2020)  Boris Johnson

“We don’t have enough testing capacity now because, in an ideal world, I would like to test absolutely everybody that wants a test immediately … Yes, there’s a long way to go, and we will work night and day to ensure that we get there.”

(September 17, 2020)  Matt Hancock

“Of course there is a challenge in testing … We have sent tests to all schools to make sure that they have tests available. But of course I also recognise the challenges in getting hold of tests … Tests are available, even though it is a challenge to get hold of them.”

The Barking and Dagenham council leader, Darren Rodwell, told the Guardian that delays for people getting tested and receiving their results caused problems in schools, care homes and among frontline workers.

He said the scenario in which people who had been in contact with someone who might have had Covid who then had to self-isolate while they waited for the person to get a test had 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 about 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 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 the 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 contact tracing because of concerns that it 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 public services to remain in public hands, has been mapping councils that have set up their own systems.

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They have sent a letter to Matt Hancock signed by more than 80 public figures calling for the test-and-trace system to be managed by local authorities. The letter heavily criticises the national contact tracing system in England

Among the signatories are the 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 sidestep the experience of local public health protection teams was a catastrophic mistake.”

Deloitte has been approached for comment.