Posted: Wed 15th Apr 2020

Minister reassures fire service Wales is ‘not in the same position’ as England – says testing referral process exists for firefighters

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Apr 15th, 2020

Fire and rescue personnel “urgently need coronavirus testing”, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned as firefighters and control staff are ‘lost’ to self-isolation.

The FBU say in the UK nearly 3,000 fire and rescue staff are in self-isolation and unable to work, representing 5.1% of the UK’s overall fire and rescue workforce. Just under 2,600 of them are operational firefighters and control staff, making up 5.3% of the total. 36 staff are in isolation in North Wales, with 178 across Wales.

The FBU has been critical of the response in England, pointing out that Welsh Government committed to testing other emergency service personnel once tests have been secured for NHS staff.

But in a letter to the FBU, England’s Security Minister James Brokenshire made no commitment to testing fire and rescue personnel in isolation in England, of which 2,300 are in isolation.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The Westminster government is playing with fire by not testing firefighters and control room staff for coronavirus. Currently, crews are maintaining services, but this will become increasingly difficult as the virus spreads.

“There are already thousands of firefighters and control staff in self-isolation, only a fraction of which will have the disease. If we aren’t able to find out exactly who is infected, and more staff isolate unnecessarily, services will be put on a dangerous knife-edge.

“Of course testing of NHS staff has to be a priority, but firefighters and other emergency service personnel are also at serious risk. The very safety of the public relies on them being able to attend work. There needs to be a clear and deliverable testing strategy for all workers required to continue at work.

“The government failed to secure test kits in sufficient numbers early in the pandemic and now frontline services are paying the price. Devolved governments have begun to take steps in the right direction, but in Westminster time is standing still – ministers need to get to grips with this crisis and ensure that all emergency service personnel are tested as soon as possible.”

Today at the daily Welsh Government press conference, we asked the Health Minister Vaughan Gething: “The Fire Brigade Union says there are 178 personnel in isolation in Wales.

“They note Welsh Government committed to testing other emergency service personnel once tests have been secured for NHS staff. Has any fire service personnel been tested, and if not, can the Minister give a target date for that starting?”

Mr Gething replied: “I don’t know the figures of fire service personnel who have been tested but as I’ve said earlier, the facility already exists for local resilience fora to refer in other Coronavirus critical workers, and firefighters are a good example.

“The absence rates within fire service in Wales are different parts of England. You’ll have heard yesterday the general secretary of the FBU, saying that in some areas, they have absence rates of over 12%. Our understanding is that absence rates in Wales are less than 5 per cent. We’re not in the same position.

“But if for the sake of argument, if the main station in Swansea had a very high absence rate that compromises the ability of that part of the service to function and the LRF (local resilience forum) have the ability to refer in firefighters from there, and to say, actually to maintain the critical infrastructure the Fire Rescue Service represents in Swansea those people can be referred in and be tested.

“That’s the level of trust that we provided within the system to local resilience fora more generally, but to local authorities for their staff in the social care sector. It comes with some responsibility to make use of those referral mechanisms if that is what is required.”

You can view the full briefing , plus the Q&A session on the below video:

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