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Covid tests being rationed in Camden

PUBLISHED: 11:24 22 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:49 22 September 2020

Covid-19 tests are becoming 'less and less available' to Camden residents, a council meeting heard last week. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images

Covid-19 tests are becoming 'less and less available' to Camden residents, a council meeting heard last week. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images

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Coronavirus tests are being rationed in Camden because it is thought to be less at risk than other local authorities, according to the borough’s director of public health.

Cllr Pat Callaghan said the testing system was failing Camden residents. Picture: Camden CouncilCllr Pat Callaghan said the testing system was failing Camden residents. Picture: Camden Council

Julie Billett said last week the number of tests in Camden was falling, despite a national surge in cases.

Public health data for the week up to September 18 shows Camden had a coronavirus case rate of 15.6 per 100,000 people, down from 21.1 the previous week.

The restriction meant residents were told there were no appointments available, even though a testing centre on their doorstep had enough capacity to accept walk-ins.

Pat Callaghan, cabinet member for health, told the council meeting: “It isn’t working. It’s failing all of us. Parents are worried. NHS frontline workers are very worried... I think you could get gold quicker than you can get these tests.”

Carly Silver, 45, told the Ham&High that her 15-year-old daughter developed a temperature on Thursday night, September 17.

Until they knew she didn’t have Covid-19, the whole family would have to isolate at their Highgate home for a fortnight - meaning all three of Carly’s children would miss up to two weeks of school.

Camden's director of public health, Julie Billett, said residents of areas with outbreaks were being prioritised by the government test booking website. Picture: PA/WireCamden's director of public health, Julie Billett, said residents of areas with outbreaks were being prioritised by the government test booking website. Picture: PA/Wire

All evening and the following morning, the government website said no tests were available. But when Carly posted her dilemma on Facebook, she was tipped off that a test centre in Kentish Town, around a 10-minute drive away, was accepting walk-ins.

“I said to my husband, ‘Keep trying and we are just going to go to this place’,” said Carly.

She and her daughter had already been admitted to the Kentish Town site when her husband called to say he had finally been offered an appointment – 70 minutes away in Lewisham.

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Julie Billett told a public meeting last Tuesday: “Last week around 1,600 tests were undertaken in Camden. Compared to the previous week, that’s a fall of about 200 tests. Given what we know about the rising community transmission and incidence of Covid, what we should be looking at is an increase in testing numbers, rather than a decrease.”

She said the booking system was prioritising areas thought to be at more risk. “For areas like Camden, where we have a lower incidence rate at the moment – although it is increasing – we are seen as lower priority and therefore, the appointment slots are less and less available to our residents,” she said.

Stephen Sacks, from Highgate's Pond Square Health Clinic, said demand had surged for private coronavirus testing. Picture: Stephen Sacks.Stephen Sacks, from Highgate's Pond Square Health Clinic, said demand had surged for private coronavirus testing. Picture: Stephen Sacks.

Dr Stephen Sacks, from Highgate’s Pond Square Health Clinic, said there had been “huge demand” for private tests since schools reopened.

He said the clinic was doing roughly 10 tests per day – the most they could accommodate – but they could easily fill twice as many appointments.

When his own son fell ill, he and his wife Naomi, who is also a GP, saw first-hand why so many people were abandoning the official system.

“I eventually got a slot at Lea Valley,” said Naomi. “We got straight in the car and we were there before our appointment time. The roads were jammed. We sat in the car for three hours and then the police came and closed the testing site.”

Naomi said she believed holidaymakers were clogging the free government test website, which is supposed to only be for people with symptoms.

“People ring us and say, ‘I’m going on holiday, I need this test’,” she said. “But then they cancel. We get people going, ‘I’ve got an NHS one now. I just lied about my symptoms’.”

The couple said they were “prioritising sick children” for private tests, but added: “Everyone who books with us, we tell them to try the NHS first. We say, ‘Carry on trying, and you can cancel us up to the last minute’. We don’t want to waste people’s money.”

Labour councillor Rishi Madlani described the testing situation last Tuesday as “shambolic” and asked Julie Billett how the public could have any trust in it.

“I think it is really concerning,” she replied. “The ability to test quickly and then to trace and isolate is a core mainstay of the public health approach to outbreak control, and in the absence of testing I think it is very difficult to build an argument that we have a workable system in place.”

The Department for Health and Social Care did not comment on the Camden situation but said it was “working around the clock to make sure everyone who needs a test can get one”.


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