Military set to be brought to help increase COVID-19 testing system in Wales
Plans to get more critical workers tested for coronavirus have been unveiled by the Welsh Government.
Technology solutions, military planning and removing the red tape around social worker referrals will help speed up the system it is hoped.
The new plans come following a review ordered by Health Minister Vaughan Gething after concerns that not enough tests were being carried out under the current system.
Last week Vaughan Gething criticised some local authorities for not putting forward enough people to be tested, however councils are not happy with the ‘limiting’ criteria for tests, with claims referrals have been ‘rejected’.
It’s understood that under the current system, local authorities have to meet a fixed eligibility criteria to put a name forward for COVID-19 testing.
That includes the person working in a eligible area and be an eligible worker themselves, with a further requirement that the person has current COVID-19 symptoms
Public Health Wales data shows just fifteen COVID-19 tests are taking place on people who live in Flintshire per day, the second lowest rate in Wales.
Testing per 100,000 population in Flintshire stands at 282 just ahead of Anglesey at 234 per 100,000 the lowest rate in all Wales.
Mr Gething says he wants to see a “rapid increase” in the testing of key workers which includes those in the emergency services, health and social care workers, education, food, transport and utilities.
He said: “We are increasing our capacity for testing in Wales through our community testing units, the introduction of regional drive-in testing centres and, within weeks, an online home testing service.
As the daily number of tests have not been matching the capacity we’ve built up in Wales, I ordered a rapid review of the current system.
The review has produced a number of recommendations to speed up the process of referring key workers for testing. I have accepted all of these to be implemented immediately.
Today I have also published our critical worker testing policy outlining which workers will be tested and how.
I want to see a rapid increase in testing of critical workers across Wales so they can return to work more quickly and have the confidence to carry out their work safely. Their contribution to stop the spread of coronavirus and keeping us all safe is invaluable.”
The recommendations, approved by the Minister, includes work to provide a web-based booking platform to remove the bureaucracy
The ceiling on referrals of social workers per local authority will also be removed.
Welsh Government has said it will work with Local Authorities and Local Resilience Forum to review and revise the referral process for testing critical workers.
Military will be brought in to look at operational processes to speed up the system and make it more efficient.
North Wales testing is done in Wrexham however the samples taken are currently sent to Cardiff for processing, meaning the overall process can take three days or more if it is over a weekend.
Welsh Government said it wanted to reach a target of 5,000 tests a day by mid-April, Public Health Wales figures show that between April 12 and April 17, an average of 638 tests were taking place per day.
Today’s announcement has been welcomed by the Shadow Minister for Health Angela Burns AM but said its “vital the Welsh Government raises its game.”
Angela Burns said: “I welcome the latest changes to testing processes announced by the Welsh Government today, but there is more to do and Wales is still in desperate need of a dedicated team, whose only role is to have a laser-like focus on running testing effectively and quickly.
I am concerned that, when plans have been announced for community testing centres and drive-in centres in South Wales, West and North Wales are – weeks later – still in the dark.
This is unacceptable and needs addressing swiftly.
The Government announcement does not address the issue of laboratory capacity, improving capacity is key to ensuring tests are processed quickly and results returned to be of benefit to individuals.
Once these issues have been addressed and testing capacity eventually ramps up, it’s then important for testing to broaden and include population testing.
No one yet knows how long COVID-19 will be with us, and it is vital the Welsh Government raises its game.”
The Testing Policy review can be found here: https://gov.wales/review-
The Critical Workers Testing policy is here: https://gov.wales/critical-
Public Health Wales dashboard data screengrabs: https://www.deeside.com/public-health-wales-dashboard-data-screengrabs-for-flintshire/
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