My daughters, aged 10 and 11, returned from the UK last weekend. They were booked onto a course with the Sailing Trust, who had advised that, having been away, they would each require a negative PCR test result within 48 hours prior to the start of the course on Monday morning. Knowing this would be quite a tight turnaround, a week before their return I attempted to find out how to book them in, and spoke to several different people before eventually being put through to the scheduling team, who advised that I needed to fill in a form online. I did so, giving the start date of the course, and received an automated response saying someone would be in touch nearer the time.
Having heard nothing further, when Monday morning came, I took the girls to the course, explaining that the test booking was not forthcoming, but that they had been shielding with vulnerable relatives in the UK and that I had subjected them to daily lateral flow tests. I was already on hold to the non-clinical helpline. The trust’s manager explained that they had to follow the rules because the whole operation would have to be shut down if there was a Covid case. Fair enough.
Still on hold, I drove to the East Arm facility, where it was pretty quiet, and I was told I needed to go to the hospital test centre as they only do self-swabs for adults there. Fair enough. The hospital centre was deserted, with all the testing staff standing around waiting for someone to test. However, I was told that they couldn’t test without a scheduled appointment because bar codes need printing in advance. I was told to be patient as testing from contact tracing was the priority and the scheduling team was busy with that. Fair enough.
I remained on hold, on and off, throughout the day for upwards of an hour at a time. The ‘out-of -hours’ message telling me to call back between 9am and 5pm was switched on well over an hour early. The next day I tried again and got through after two hours. I was given the number for the scheduling team, which I still can’t find anywhere by searching. It was answered almost immediately and I was told I hadn’t been contacted because the course was ‘probably mostly outside’, but they made a booking for testing later in the day, allowing the girls to join their course half-way through, for the last two days. Two hours later a lady from the scheduling team called to book the tests that I had requested online over a week previously. She was suitably apologetic and admitted that the system was not working, but she had no idea whether or not I had already been contacted or even whether the tests had already taken place.
None of this was a particularly big deal for me, as I wasn’t at work and hadn’t been relying on the course for childcare. I totally understand that the system needs to be nimble in rapidly responding to changes, and that there will always be some teething trouble when changes are brought in, but my experience suggests that it is currently completely shambolic, and this is a cause for concern. First of all, the number of children requiring tests is likely to get much higher at the beginning of term. Is the system really ready to schedule tests for all the children who were away from the island on Monday 23 August, or any time afterwards, in the 48 hours before they start the new term? Or are schools going to have to deal with hundreds of children arriving in dribs and drabs, having missed the crucial first few hours of the term and the chance to get to know new teachers and classmates? However, perhaps a far bigger concern is that, like so many of our weapons in the fight against Covid, this system relies upon the honesty of individuals. That’s fine if it works, and if nobody is inconvenienced by it, but if it doesn’t and they are, then people have an incentive to ‘forget to mention’ that their child has been away – and that presents an unacceptable risk to us all.