James manages the testing programme at Co-op Angel Square in Manchester. Here, Co-op employees can come and get a Covid-19 test throughout their working day in a safe environment with our friendly team of nurses. This helps to prevent asymptomatic people spreading the virus whilst at work.
We asked him a few questions about himself and his role at the test centre:
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the testing programme?
“I’m leading the operation here at the Co-op, so I am responsible for the day-to-day setup and running of the programme. I make sure that all the PPE requirements are fully met and look after the team – their health and safety is of paramount importance. It is crucial to keep both ourselves safe, and the people who are coming through to get tested. That’s my number one priority. I also have to make sure everything is running smoothly, that the colleagues who are being tested have the best possible experience as they come through the centre and that we are recording the results in a clear, unambiguous way.”
What else have you been involved in during the pandemic?
“When the pandemic first hit, I was part of a flexible workforce, so my contract was terminated with zero notice. I decided that I would do what I could to help those in need. I volunteered to work on the production line to make ventilators and to go on the front line and support the NHS – both of which I was not required for. It turned out that help was needed closer to home.
I was involved in setting up a buddy scheme in our local community to support those families who are shielding. Families that have not been out since day 1 of the first lockdown. We support a range of families within our community by doing things such as getting their shopping for them, making sure they’re okay, making sure that they have somebody to talk to even if it’s across their driveway and that they are not completely isolated. Doing whatever I can to help the community really.
Now I am working on the frontline with various companies to deliver these kinds of projects. The pandemic has been busy in a very unexpected way. You have to bring all of your different skills together to help people in the best way you possibly can.“
What is the process of setting up the testing site from start to finish?
“After we gain that initial approval from the company, various organisations then come together to make the programme happen. In this case, you’ve got Deloitte who are operating the testing scheme on behalf of the government, Mighty who run the building’s facilities and cleaning operations, the Co-op who are the employer and Moore MedTech who have the medical technology expertise to deliver an effective programme.
Once we get the green light, we can begin to map out how the programme will be carried out, recruit and train the team and make sure that the space available is suitable for a testing site. We must ensure that a one-way system can be put in place, that there is good quality airflow throughout the site and that the team feel safe and well-equipped.
You also need to make sure you have a good degree of empathy. You’re coming into a workplace where employees usually feel safe and setting something up that is quite alien. Everyone has experienced the pandemic differently and will be coming to the testing site for different reasons – you have to have empathy for everyone and make sure they feel safe and looked after.”
How quickly can this be set up?
“As long as there is a supply of test kits ready and a suitable space available, it’s a quick process.
We have to come in and conduct all of the necessary risk checks – is it going to work in the space available? Are there any alterations that need to be made? The staff all have to undergo online training through the government portal and once they have done this, we do walkthroughs of the site to ensure that everything runs smoothly. We try to make the testing site as good as it possibly can be before opening it to the employees. When we are happy with the site, we can start to invite employees to come for a test. This can usually happen within a couple of days.”
Can anyone come to the site and get tested whenever they want?
“As long as you are an employee, you can come to the test site whenever you want. We have some regulars that come in more often, particularly those who are around vulnerable people who want that reassurance that they aren’t passing it on. Usually, people come and get tested about once a week.”
Why is it important for employers to put a testing programme in place?
“I could spend all day on this question. We are in the middle of a pandemic and it is absolutely crucial that we, as a nation, break the chains of infection. It’s very easy to do this when people are showing symptoms, but when people are asymptomatic it becomes much more difficult. If we can break those chains in the workplace, then we can relieve the strain on the NHS and save lives.
Companies have a duty to make their workplace as safe as it possibly can be, and this is one of the ways they can do that. How companies treat their staff during this time will directly impact who will want to continue working for them. Those companies that have looked after their staff in exemplary ways will be remembered in the future.
It’s about doing the right thing, creating a safe working environment and fighting this virus in every way we can. It is a hugely anxious time for everyone and anything a company can do to support its staff is worth doing.“
What is the procedure when someone gets a positive test result?
“They would receive their test results via the NHS system on their mobile phone. The process will vary between companies but most likely they would inform their line manager, go home to self-isolate and take a confirmatory PCR test.”
How have the Co-op staff responded to the testing programme?
“All of the feedback has been really positive. People have said that they are pleased that the Co-op are running this programme and are happy that the process is quick and easy. Those who are living with vulnerable people are especially grateful for the opportunity to have a test at work.“
What is the difference between these programmes and self-testing?
“The main difference with what we do is that there is someone with medical training in the testing room to provide guidance. There is evidence that shows that the quality of the sample is crucial to make sure you are getting an accurate result. When people do their own tests without help from medical professionals, the accuracy rates are significantly reduced. It also provides people with more reassurance and allows them to be tested in a safe environment with the help of a nurse.”