Coronavirus: Hackney Mayor criticises “failed” and privatised test and trace system

Hackney has seen a reduction in the number of tests being carried out. Picture: PA/Wire

Hackney has seen a reduction in the number of tests being carried out. Picture: PA/Wire - Credit: PA/Wire

The Mayor of Hackney has said testing remains one of the borough’s “biggest challenges” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hackney's first mobile test centre for Covid-19 in Dalston in May. Pictured (from left) Council sta

Hackney's first mobile test centre for Covid-19 in Dalston in May. Pictured (from left) Council staff Nicky and Peter from Adult Social Care, Steve from Civil Protection, Mayor Phil Glanville and the Grenadier Guards. Picture: Hackney Council - Credit: Hackney Council

Mayor Phillip Glanville said, at a Healthwatch Hackney meeting on September 23, that despite a “huge” amount of work creating and improving local testing capacity, much progress has been put “sharply into reverse”, with testing becoming “unbookable” and “unturnupable” over the last two weeks after an “alleged” reallocation of tests away from London.

He criticised the government’s test and trace methodology for its reliance on private sector partnerships and said: “The government chose a national centralised system, reliant on the private sector.

“I think that has failed.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Hackney’s top officials slam government’s ‘shambolic’ system as hundreds turned away from testing centres

Mayor Glanville said the council had a “very good relationship” with the army when its personnel were initially running Hackney’s test sites in April.

He added that the army took part in strategic planning and was good at sharing information and data.

More recently, coronavirus test sites are being managed by private multinational companies like Serco, on behalf of the government, as part of NHS test and trace.

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Shirley Mcgrath asked a question at the remote Healthwatch meeting, held on zoom, and called NHS test and trace a shambles as well as a “hugely funded private sector exercise” costing peoples lives.

Last week, the Mayor said just 60 tests a day were being carried out at the Bentley Road testing centre in Dalston and earlier this month, errors in the government’s online booking system for tests meant residents were being directed to sites as far away as Inverness.

READ MORE: Decrease in Hackney’s coronavirus cases ‘could be down to dramatic drop in testing’ - as one person directed 600 miles to Inverness

“We would all agree that NHS test and trace has far too much involvement from the private sector,” the Mayor stated at the meeting.

He has been advocating for a greater role for the local NHS and local public sector in testing and track and trace services.

Council data reveals 3,758 tests for Covid-19 have been carried out in City of London and Hackney in the fortnight preceding September 21, having reduced from 5,046 the previous fortnight.

Chris Lovitt, deputy Director of Public Health at City of London and Hackney Council called the system “less than satisfactory” and said 60 tests a day is significantly lower than required. Hackney’s Dalston site was, at times, testing up to 300 people a day.

However, he said the NHS test and trace app, launched in Hackney on September 24, would help identify people coming into contact with Covid-19 and new £500 government support payments, for people required to self-isolate but without the funds to do so, will be helpful in reducing the spread of coronavirus.

READ MORE: Hackney Covid testing sites now open to walk-ins

The council’s own local contact tracing service went live on September 22 to follow up on all contacts identified by NHS test and trace and, to get in touch with anyone missed by the national test and trace service.

It is one of the first to launch in the country as a local means of supporting the NHS in testing and tracing people who could have coronavirus and must self-isolate to prevent the spread of the virus.

The service will also carry out humanitarian checks.

Meanwhile, the government says it is responding to a growing number of cases in London by increasing capacity in the capital as well as adding new test sites on a weekly basis, in addition to the thousands of tests taking place in the city,

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: “NHS Test and Trace is providing tests at an unprecedented scale – 240,000 a day on average over the last week – with the vast majority of people getting tested within six miles of their home.

“We are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, and prioritising at-risk groups.”

NHS Test and Trace currently includes five major laboratories, 258 mobile testing units and 105 walk-through testing sites.

The programme’s aim is to control the spread of the virus by ensuring people with coronavirus symptoms can be tested as soon as possible and self-isolate if found to be positive. People who have been in close contact with an infected person are then contacted and told to self-isoate as well.

British company Serco, manages a Hackney testing site for DHSC Thand about 25 per cent of sites nationally. It said it was not responsible for decisions relating to the allocation of testing at each site and does not manage test booking systems.

Healthwatch Hackney is a local health and care watchdog.

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