By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Plans are underway to create a major coronavirus testing site in Kent.
The centre is expected to be built at an undisclosed location in the county after a proposal was discussed between the NHS, Department for Health, public health bosses at Kent County Council and consultant firm, Deloitte, yesterday (April 20).
Boris Johnson’s Government and NHS will have the final say on the testing centre plans, with more details expected from the Government later this week.
The talks came ahead of an 80-minute virtual meeting involving Kent County Council’s cabinet. Several councillors and senior officers discussed Maidstone County Hall’s response to the global pandemic.
KCC’s public health director, Andrew Scott-Clark, said: “We are starting to talk about broadening the testing to all key workers and all symptomatic family members through the institution of a mass test site.
“That won’t be far from being set up in Kent. We are in the very early planning stages of that, so I can’t offer more information about it at the moment.”
NHS workers from Medway and Swale had started to receive swab tests at the county’s first drive-thru testing centre at Medway Maritime Hospital last week.
Other testing sites have opened at major Kent hospitals, including the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, Dartford’s Darent Valley, Ashford’s William Harvey and QEQM in Margate.
However, KCC’s main opposition leader, Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), was critical about the lack of “universal” testing facilities in place across Kent.
He said: “One of the key issues in terms of resolving the pathway to removing the lockdown is getting more universal testing facilities in place.”
Some 2,400 positive coronavirus tests have been confirmed in Kent (excluding Medway which has recorded 478). This figure only represents those who have been tested and not all of those who have symptoms. However, KCC’s public health director said he was “reassured” about the county’s COVID-19 situation.
Mr Scott-Clark (pictured) said: “What we are not seeing is an exponential rise in numbers and that gives some cause for hope, given that in a classic epidemic curve you would see the rates going up exponentially.
“We are seeing about an average number of 100 new cases a day, which by all accounts is manageable by the NHS and our system.”
He added that the coronavirus case numbers in Kent represented “about half” of London’s total while stressed that testing will be “ramped” up across the county, particularly for NHS staff in East Kent.
KCC’s cabinet was later told about other ongoing concerns, including COVID-19 outbreaks at care homes, prisons and hospices. They said around 67 coronavirus cases have been reported in these institutions across the county.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages continue to be a cause of concern for county council bosses, particularly due to high demand.
KCC’s leader, Cllr Roger Gough (Con), said: “Staff have done remarkable things to ensure that we get PPE orders delivered and seek to respond to the very, very severe pressures there have been in the care sector and elsewhere.”
His comments come three weeks after KCC agreed to spend around £2million on “bulk” emergency supplies, including hand sanitisers, aprons, masks, gloves and goggles, from its original £39m COVID-19 Government grant.