GOVERNMENT’S appointment-only decision for Covid-19 tests leaves Slough ‘fighting in the dark’, a health professional said.
Recently, Slough Borough Council (SBC) were instructed by the government to ban drive and walk-ins at the hybrid testing centre in Montem Park where only people who have made an appointment can visit the site.
This nationwide decision was for UK labs to deal with the backlog of tests sent.
Dr Vanita Dutta, public health programme manager, said the appointment restriction has left SBC ‘fighting in the dark’ in tracking data within the communities if an uptick of cases is likely to happen.
She said: “The short-term impact would be there’s an assumption from the previous data that we will not be able to find as many cases in the communities – so, there may be cases lurking around there.
“We already know from anecdotal information that people have been desperately trying to get an appointment for 72 hours and then got fed-up and just self-isolate for 10 days.
“We are basically fighting in the dark where we don’t know what is there in the community.”
Dr Dutta also said it can also affect changing people’s behaviour in adopting the guidance without realising in the long-term.
She added the borough has seen a rise in 111 calls due to patients with seasonal coughs and colds seeking assurance and also trying to access tests.
Councillor Pavitar K. Mann (Labour: Britwell and Northborough), lead member for planning and regulation, said the appointment-only decision has been ‘utterly shambolic’ and goes against the council’s efforts to encourage more people to get tested.
It was revealed the cabinet member for health and wellbeing, councillor Natasa Pantelic (Labour: Cippenham Meadows), had written to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock to reverse the decision to make the Montem testing centre on an appointment-only basis with ‘immediate effect’.
In the letter, she states: “This is an unsustainable situation which puts our residents’ lives at risk and hugely damages all the work that’s been done to reduce Covid-19 transmission rates in the community by the council and our partners.”
She added the testing centre was a ‘key element’ in reducing the transmission rates of the virus and the flexibility of the centre broke the barriers of language, transport, and technology for residents.
Cllr Pantelic also highlighted Slough’s black, Asian, and minority ethnic population majority – who have been hardest hit by Covid-19.
At the end of the letter, she demanded Matt Hancock to reply with what actions the government will take to resolve the laboratory capacity issues for testing.
This was heard at the Slough Local Outbreak Engagement Board on September 16 (Wednesday).