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Frustration as Suffolk schools are hit by coronavirus testing ‘shambles’

PUBLISHED: 10:48 14 September 2020 | UPDATED: 16:53 14 September 2020

Many people are struggling to get Covid tests  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Many people are struggling to get Covid tests Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Schools in Suffolk are being hit by a coronavirus testing “shambles” - with both staff and pupils being forced to take time off.

The coronavirus drive through testing facility near the Copdock Interchange in Ipswich  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNThe coronavirus drive through testing facility near the Copdock Interchange in Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Staff and parents say many children are developing coughs and other symptoms as they go back to school after lockdown followed by the long summer break.

But, when they try to access tests, they are being told there are no test centres or home tests available.

Union boss and former Suffolk headteacher Geoff Barton said: “We are very concerned that the fantastic work of schools and colleges in putting in place a raft of safety measures in order to fully reopen for the autumn term is at risk of being derailed by a lack of capacity in the test and trace system.”

Mr Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and former headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, added: “Staff and pupils must be able to obtain tests immediately and easily, so that if they are clear of the virus they can return to school as soon as possible, and if they are positive then the appropriate action can be taken to contact and isolate close contacts. If this does not happen the system will come under increasing strain and the health risks will grow.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Picture: ANDY ABBOTTGeoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

MORE: Does your child need a coronavirus test?

Peter Smith, deputy headteacher of Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge, said in a letter to this newspaper that his school has excellent teachers and support staff. “But as of Monday I have six off waiting for a Covid test. A test that none of them can access.

“A test for a significant other, or a child who’s developed a cough. I don’t anticipate any of those six being back this week. Another week of missed lessons. Of missed specialist input from teachers who know their students. An unnecessary week missed. And by the end of the week I fear that six will only be increased.”

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One Suffolk mum described testing for Covid-19 as an “absolute farce” and said: “It has taken me four days to get a local test for my son who is displaying symptoms. But after taking a poorly child, who is prone to seizures, on a 20-minute drive, we get told that there was a “blip” in the system, meaning it didn’t register the appointment, and to go home and keep trying.”

MORE: Health officials ‘aware’ of issues with booking Covid-19 tests

Sam Behling, of Washbrook, has been trying to book a test for nine-year-old son Noah, a pupil at Copdock Primary School..

“First of all, there is no stock of the home tests, so that rules that out. I have tried to book a drive-through/walk-through appointment through the website, but it just tells me that no test sites are found.

“So I have called the 119 telephone number, that puts me on hold in a queue for 30 minutes exactly, then just disconnects. The system is an absolute shambles.”

Vicki Alford, of Debenham, said she, her husband Matthew and sons Miles, nine and Haidon, eight, who are pupils at Sir Robert Hitcham Primary School in the village, are all unwell with possible Covid symptoms

“I have been constantly trying to book tests for my family since Thursday morning and there are no test sites available and no home tests available. We are unable to go to work or school until we have had negative test results.”

In a statement on Sunday, DHSC said: “NHS Test and Trace is working and our capacity is the highest it has ever been but we are seeing a significant demand for tests including from people who do not have symptoms and are not otherwise eligible.

“New booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for those who need them and we are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, and prioritising at-risk groups.”


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