Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Council spends £120,000 on virus tests for key staff

A TOTAL of £120,000 is to be spent by Wokingham Borough Council on coronavirus testing kits for key workers.

The council says the move is in response to the “inadequacies” of the Government’s system.

The money is enough for 1,000 tests and the results from each swab will be available within 48 hours.

Councillor Charles Margetts, lead member for health, said the national testing system was under strain and needed to be more resilient.

Speaking at an online extraordinary council meeting, he said: “The system run by the Government is available to all who need it.

“Essential workers can apply for priority testing and a small number of testing kits have been supplied to each local school.

“We are not aiming to replace this system but, as anyone who reads papers or listens to the TV knows, this system is having capacity problems.

“This is for an emergency situation and will hopefully be for a short period of time until the national system recovers.”

Every swab test kit costs about £105 and has a shelf life of 12 months. Tests must be returned to the laboratory in the packaging provided using the pre-paid self-addressed envelope.

If it is an urgent case, results may be available within 24 hours and the information is fed into the NHS track and trace system.

There have been 732 confirmed cases of covid-19 in Wokingham since March and 91 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

Councillors were asked by Wesley Budd, a member of the public, if the council would be seeking to claim the money back from the Government.

Cllr Margetts replied: “The important point is that the price includes the whole testing service, not just the test kit.

“That means the kit, the courier to the lab and the lab processing and Public Health having access to the test results. It is very important with any potential test that the data is fed into the NHS track and trace system.

“We are only looking here to secure a back-up supply should we have a significant situation, such as an outbreak.

“We will pursue all avenues for government funding as we will do for all the costs incurred directly or indirectly around covid.

“Unfortunately, extra funding from central government is not enough to cover all these costs. It is imperative we target our resources to where they are most needed.

“We are continuing to lobby our MPs and put pressure on them to address this situation and resolve these funding issues.”

Another resident, Al Neal, said: “To be effective in stopping the spread of the virus, selecting those to be tested, carrying out the tests and communicating the results is a time-critical task.

“Is the council confident it has or can create the capacity to perform effectively in these tasks?”

Cllr Margetts replied: “At the moment, cases in Wokingham are relatively low.

“With this back-up provision, we are trying to do all we can to make sure that we are prepared and ready for whatever may come to protect our residents. It is a 48-hour response and can get to 24 hours in urgent situations.

“We are confident it will be timely and all the data will be fed into the NHS system so that any evidence can be used in the fight against covid.

“We don’t know how long the national system will take to recover enough capacity but this does seem to me to be a sensible step to mitigate the risk to Wokingham residents.”

Mike Smith, another member of the public, said many of the borough’s key workers lived outside Wokingham and asked if the tests would only be available to local residents.

Cllr Margetts said: “If there were residents outside Wokingham that couldn’t get tested and it was critical they did for the management and health of people in Wokingham, we would consider it.

“At the moment, the rate of covid in Wokingham is about a third of the national average. While the national provision is limited, it is being directed toward areas of higher risk and if there was an outbreak it is likely the Government system would be stronger there than Wokingham, which is a very low risk area and we hope it stays that way.”

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