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Islington Council’s plan to set up walk-in coronavirus test centre at Sobell Centre carpark hits ‘red tape and delay’

PUBLISHED: 15:46 22 September 2020

Sobell Leisure Centre carpark. Picture: Google maps

Sobell Leisure Centre carpark. Picture: Google maps

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Negotiations to set up a walk-in Covid-19 testing centre in the Sobell Leisure Centre carpark have been ongoing for weeks - but Islington Council has “come up against red tape and delay”.

People pass a COVID-19 test centre sign at a walk-through testing centre. Picture: Andrew Milligan/ PA Wire/PA ImagesPeople pass a COVID-19 test centre sign at a walk-through testing centre. Picture: Andrew Milligan/ PA Wire/PA Images

Council leader Richard Watts has spoken of his frustration that a site already identified in the borough is still not operational.

At the moment, if Islington residents can book a test at all, they are being directed as far afield as Cardiff or Scotland.

The council earmarked the Sobell Centre car park off Tollington Road in Hornsey over a month ago.

“We’ve been working through the official channels with Deloitte, the government agent running the testing service,” said Cllr Watts.

Council leader, Cllr Richard Watts. Picture: Islington Council/ Em Fitzgerald PhotographyCouncil leader, Cllr Richard Watts. Picture: Islington Council/ Em Fitzgerald Photography

“We’ve been in discussion for weeks and weeks, and we’ve been stalled and railroaded by bureaucracy and slow responses.”

Communication has been “immensely frustrating”, he said.

“The Government needs urgently to fix London’s testing system. One of our councillors was directed to Cardiff last week, which is crazy.

“Residents are telling us this is a massive problem. We know the vast majority don’t own a car and can’t up sticks and get to Cardiff.

“Islington needs its own testing centre – we have been calling for this for some time and have run into red tape and delay.”

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Although Islington is not one of the boroughs with the highest coronavirus cases in London, the rate of positive test results is rising.

In June about six cases a week were being recorded amongst residents, but now there are an average of six cases a day - and not everyone with symptoms who needs to be tested for the illness is being tested.

“If we had been given our own resources to run the testing centre, we would have done it ages ago, but because [the government has] decided to do it, we haven’t been able to,” said Cllr Watts.

“By resources, I don’t mean the money - we would have found the money because it’s so serious - I mean the physical resources for testing.

“There’s been a whole range of small blocks which seems to be the issue. One of them was in the wrong bit of the car park, but the frustrating thing was there wasn’t a single problem. 
“It was an inability to sort out a whole range of fiddly tiny issues, and a non-clear steer to the council of what was necessary, and no offer of a visit which would have resolved it in 20 minutes. 
“It’s what you’d expect of a big unresponsive top-down system, but in a rising national emergency when we are seeing rising cases and a fall in the number of Islington residents getting tests it’s disappointing.”

At a government select committee hearing last week, Test and Trace boss Dido Harding claimed there was no warning Test and Trace would need to scale up testing once schools reopened and people began returning to their workplaces.

Baroness Harding admitted lab capacity to process testing had been moved out of London to serve areas in the north and west Midlands where cases were apparently higher.

“It seems ludicrous we are in a position where that decision has to be made, given the capacity to process tests hasn’t increased in several months and it doesn’t take a genius to figure that when schools go back there will be an increase in need,” said Cllr Watts.

The Gazette asked the Department of Health and Social Care was was causing the hold-up to opening the Islington walk-in centre, but did not receive a response.

A spokesperson did say more than a million tests are being processed each week, but that an estimated 25 per cent of the people booking tests were not “eligible” or did not have Covid-19 symptoms.
“Thousands of tests are taking place every day across dozens of testing sites in London, including in neighbouring boroughs to Islington,” they said.

“We are expanding testing capacity further bringing in new labs that can process tens of thousands more tests a day and working with councils, including Islington Council, to identify additional testing sites.”

Deloitte declined to comment.


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