Camden Leader calls for locally-led control of Covid-19 testing facilities

Councillor Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council, has today called for clearer public guidance from Ministers on Covid-19 testing and for more locally-led control of testing facilities.

Councillor Gould said:

“It is absolutely critical that Camden's residents have access to adequate Covid-19 testing to keep our communities safe and to keep our borough moving. It has now become clear that this isn’t happening - our residents are playing their part and isolating themselves either with symptoms or following contact tracing, but what they are getting back from the government is mixed messages and a testing system that seems to be failing. This is far from the 'world beating' and 'local by default' service we were promised.

“Testing is vital because it not only enables people to know whether or not they have Covid-19 but also helps councils spot emerging clusters of infection and emerging issues to prevent further spread. Without this data, we don’t have a clear picture of the local situation and a second wave becomes a real risk.

“We've received reports that residents are being told there are not enough kits available and in some cases people are being asked to travel hundreds of miles to a test centre. This a completely unacceptable situation and I call on the government to reassess its 'local by default' commitment and urgently find a way to make it work.

“A huge local effort has kept local services running and has reopened our schools. I thank everyone involved in getting us to this point and our residents for following the guidance that we have been sharing for the past six months. To maintain this progress it is absolutely essential that the Government's testing arrangements improve, and fast.

“We have worked closely with the Mayor of London and other London Boroughs to ensure people know about when and how to access a test, what to do until they get the results and how to keep their families and communities safe – but central to this is people’s ability to get a test and get the results quickly.

Let local government lead on testing

“We in local government have said all along that we stand ready to support the Government's testing regime locally - this offer still stands. It is important now that Government learns the lessons of the past six months and puts local Councils in control of testing capacity, allows us to build local walk-in testing centres that mean everyone can easily access testing, and uses the expertise and skills of our local public health and environmental health teams.

“We think local solutions are best because we in local government know our communities and we know how best to engage them. The government has so far refused to relinquish any control from the centre and this is the result.

“Residents, pupils, teachers, parents, businesses and workers have played their part – now Government must step up and do all they can to ensure everyone who needs one can access a test.

“We have received many reports from residents and schools about significant delays or a complete inability to access testing, despite repeated attempts though the Government system. This is causing distress and anxiety - people have made real sacrifices over the last six months and it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that we have the testing and tracing resources available to prevent and contain the spread of Covid-19 in our communities.

“In the absence of a test to confirm a positive or negative diagnosis, we are currently having to advise anyone with Covid-19 symptoms to self-isolate and to keep trying to book a test during their first five days of being symptomatic. The problem too many people are facing is that if they are unable to get a test in that time period, they need to continue to isolate for a further five days as a precautionary measure. This is hugely disruptive for many people - including school children, parents, NHS workers, businesses and care workers who are having to stay at home. And it's hugely unsettling for people who don't know whether or not they've got Covid-19.

“Camden still has a relatively low number of positive cases and I know this is because our residents are doing their part to keep themselves and their families and neighbours safe – but unless testing is available to anyone with symptoms we don't know the risk of Covid-19 in our communities.

Be safe, follow the health advice and get support if you need it

“It is so important that everyone continues to follow the health advice – washing hands, wearing masks, keeping a safe distance from people not in your household. It is also important to not request a test unless you are symptomatic. I understand that people want to know if they have the virus to keep themselves and others safe – but currently you should only request a test if you have symptoms – a high temperature, a new continuous cough and a loss or change in your sense of smell or taste.

“A lack of tests means that households will have to self-isolate for the maximum amount of time. We know this is really frustrating but if you have symptoms, or live with someone who has symptoms, it is vital that you stay at home. Otherwise, you risk passing the virus on which could make the situation worse in Camden. We know that self-isolating is hard for many people but we want to reassure you that Camden is here to help. If you need support to self-isolate – whether that be accessing a device to support your child to keep up with their education or help getting hold of essentials if you live alone – please call us on 020 7974 4444 (option 9) or for more general information go to www.camden.gov.uk/coronavirus

“If you're trying to access a test via www.nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119, if you are told that no tests are available, you will get up-to-date advice on what to do next. Our advice is to try again later in the day when more slots may become available.

“We are with you in this difficult time. If you need help then please get in touch.”