Watch the webinar
- Ceri Thomas, Editor and Partner, Tortoise Media (Chair)
- Matthew Fell, Chief UK Policy Director, CBI
- Baroness Dido Harding, Executive Chair, NHS Test and Trace and Interim Executive Chair, NIHP
- Rebecca Weston, Chief Operating Officer, Sellafield
A CBI update – support schemes, local lockdowns and workplace testing
- We’re hearing encouraging noises from government about support for businesses. We know the coming second wave is a very frustrating development for businesses, so adequate support is critical
- We expect a possible extension to the various access to finance schemes, with most schemes due to close at the end of September
- But further cashflow support is needed. This could be done through business rates, or VAT deferrals. We also need a successor to the furlough scheme
- A lot of people are subject to restrictions around the country – with around 13.5 m people under some form of restriction, roughly 1/5 of the population. And we’re seeing further restrictions on businesses as a result, such as curfews, table-only service, the six-person rule, and difficulties with travel to work
- Testing is not a silver bullet, but from a business perspective it’s an important part of the toolkit, because it enables us to address problems quicker, minimising disruption. It acts as an early warning system, and affects how targeted we can be in any measures
- Mass testing is the holy grail, i.e. people getting tests to prove they’re healthy, rather than prove they’re sick
- We could be in another moment that requires a national effort. We need to utilise private sector expertise to improve testing, and firms need to understand where private sector testing can play a complementary role to the NHS scheme, without taking capacity away.
Test and Trace – the background and latest numbers
- Since NHS Test and Trace began, the scheme has processed over 20m tests. 6.7m of these were within NHS, and just under 11m were in a brand-new national testing programme that didn’t exist in March
- There are 455 different testing sites across the country, with 15 new walk-in sites opening every week
- The scheme is operating 2.76 tests per 1,000 population, which is more than Germany, France, and Spain. So, it’s one of the biggest testing programmes in the world
- As of Monday 14 September, testing capacity was 231,921 tests per day. As of Friday 18 September, capacity is 253,521, so they’re adding 10% new capacity every week – on track for 500,000 tests a day by the end of October
- But what’s going wrong? It’s hugely tempting to believe testing is a silver bullet, but it isn’t. Behavioural changes are more important, and no testing regime can solve the pandemic if people don’t change the way they behave
- People are understandably scared and want to get a test. But often the right answer is not to get a test, but to self-isolate. Unless you’ve been in close contact with an individual who’s tested positive, you can carry on. But if you’ve been within 2m of them, you need to self-isolate, and a test doesn’t free you from that responsibility
- One of the issues with tests are that a test today just tells you that you don’t have the virus today – but the virus can have different incubation periods in different individuals. In addition, a lot of people are having tests when they don’t need them – so demand is massively outstripping supply.
- We need to be clear on our testing priorities at a national level. The scheme’s priority order is below:
- 1. People needing NHS clinical care, i.e. those coming into hospital
- 2. Those who are most vulnerable, such as those in care homes
- 3. NHS staff, including those working in primary care
- 4. Areas where we see the highest prevalence of disease
- 5. Key workers – such as teachers.
Sellafield’s approach to workplace testing
- Sellafield is one of the largest industrial sites in UK, running nuclear operations, decommissioning and waste management
- There are around 10,000 employees and thousands of supply change contractors. And it must remain open with a certain amount of people, even with social distancing in place
- A COVID-19 outbreak would have a very big impact on the site’s ability to maintain safety and security
- But testing is very much an additional mitigation alongside other solutions as part of a very detailed risk assessment – namely social distancing, hand washing and sanitising
- Sellafield uses a different type of test to the NHS, with a swifter turnaround. Within a couple of hours, you can tell an employee whether they need to self-isolate or not. It also means you can trace contacts quicker
- They’re not testing every worker, just symptomatic individuals. Last week, they did around 150 tests, and four were positive
- What have Sellafield learnt?
- Testing is not a silver bullet, other measures are more important
- Everyone is reacting to the pandemic differently, so try and talk to the full range of responses people are feeling when you communicate
- Ensure your messages aren’t just top down.
The link between scale and speed of testing
- But why can’t the NHS Test and Trace scheme offer quicker tests? Currently, the test the NHS uses needs a laboratory, and this process takes a few hours. Turnaround times can be less than 24 hours, and many are – particularly in NHS hospitals and care homes
- Logistics is a huge challenge – essentially getting tests out to people and then to the labs. The plan is to invest some of the increased capacity to allow the labs to operate more smoothly. This should allow turnaround times to improve.
- New testing technologies are coming, with faster turnaround times. The NHS is working with over 100 different suppliers and technology providers. They’re now seeing green shoots of tests that can take between 15-90 minutes
- The holy grail is a 15-minute turnaround test. But this is not fully validated yet
- The full weight of the global diagnostics industry is working on this, so we should be optimistic. Many technologies will break through over coming months.
The new contact tracing app
- The new NHS Test and Trace contact tracing app is launching on Thursday. The app involves businesses downloading QR codes, which customers scan as they enter
- If that location has an outbreak, people who have been there within the time period will get an alert
- The app also has contact tracing via Bluetooth. If an individual has been close to someone who’s tested positive, they’ll get an alert
- It also shows you the prevalence of the disease in your area and enables you to order a test.