Comment

If only nurses were in charge of COVID-19 test and trace

Coronavirus testing system needs leaders who understand the needs of ordinary people and the NHS

To take control of this virus, we need to make testing easier for the public

Wow! is my little granddaughters favourite word. She reserves it for especially wonderful things, like puddles, and cats who dont run away when she tries to stroke them.

I have been saying wow quite a lot myself lately, but not for the same reason. It has been the wow of incredulity, the wow that says you couldnt make this up.

Wow is what I said when a friend, who had symptoms of COVID-19, had to drive all the way from Hampshire to Swansea for a test. He felt terrible but he had no choice. That was six weeks ago

To take control of this virus, we need to make testing easier for the public

The coronavirus testing pathway is far from straightforward for many Picture: Robert Melen/Alamy

‘Wow!’ is my little granddaughter’s favourite word. She reserves it for especially wonderful things, like puddles, and cats who don’t run away when she tries to stroke them.

I have been saying ‘wow’ quite a lot myself lately, but not for the same reason. It has been the ‘wow’ of incredulity, the ‘wow’ that says ‘you couldn’t make this up’.

‘Wow’ is what I said when a friend, who had symptoms of COVID-19, had to drive all the way from Hampshire to Swansea for a test. He felt terrible but he had no choice. That was six weeks ago and he still hasn’t had the result.

‘Wow’ is what I said when a relative was expected to drive from Leeds to Castle Douglas in Scotland for the same purpose. A lovely journey unless you are febrile with a hacking cough, and have to cart two small children along with you.

Chaotic testing centre experience would have made me give up

Another ‘wow’ moment came when a friend took her feverish toddler for a COVID test. She doesn’t have a car, so had to take her son in his pushchair. When they reached the test centre it wasn’t open, so they had to wait in the rain, despite having an appointment.

‘Some test and trace consultants are earning more in a week than many nurses make in a year, and they still don’t understand that test and trace will not work if you put obstacles in people’s way’

‘It was completely disorganised,’ she said. ‘Patients were just hanging around outside, coughing, and you felt the staff had no idea what they were doing.’ The baby’s test came back inconclusive. They were then sent to a different venue, where the staff demanded the little one should be masked. When he couldn’t tolerate it, they sent my friend to another testing centre – all in the rain, on foot, with a sick child.

Members of the public queue to take a coronavirus test Picture: Alamy

I honestly think I would have given up. To put the icing on the cake, my friend was informed it was unlikely she would get a result for several weeks, so they should quarantine anyway.

It’s possible to get paid a lot, but understand little

I’m sure we all said ‘wow’ when we heard about the test and trace management consultants and their eye-watering salaries. Some are earning more in a week than many nurses make in a year, and they still don’t understand that people who are sick and potentially infectious should not be travelling long distances, that not everyone has their own transport, and that test and trace will not work if you put obstacles in people’s way.

The public is fed up to the back teeth with the way our lives have been put through the mangle in recent months, so this needs to be made easy, and not be an endurance test in its own right.

‘Nurses would have sorted out those test centres at the drop of a hat’

I’m not into government-bashing, they have an impossible job to do. But if they are paying out silly money – our money - they should choose consultants who understand how ordinary people live and behave.

Consulting people who understand the pace of the NHS would have helped

Not everyone is as dogged as my friend with the toddler. If too many people are allowed to fall between the cracks, we will never get a grip on this beastly virus.

It would have been better to engage people who know what they are doing. They could have involved NHS laboratory staff, who are accustomed to operating under pressure, rather than private companies that would not be used to the pace at which we work.

Nurses would have sorted out those test centres at the drop of a hat. So listen up, Boris – for £7,000 a day, I will happily come out of retirement and provide you with advice.


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