Northumberland health chiefs have warned they may be forced to cut Covid testing if they cannot get more money from the government.
The county currently has four dedicated PCR swab sites in Berwick, Ashington, Blyth and Hexham, as well as lateral flow devices on offer at various locations.
But concerns have been expressed about how long the existing diet can be maintained – just as the rise of the Omicron coronavirus variant makes it more important than ever.
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And questions were also asked about the “barriers” to accessing rapid lateral flow device (LFD) tests.
“We have a number of challenges and it will be interesting to see if this is picked up now, based on the national guidelines that have been published,” said Gill O’Neill, acting deputy director of public health for Northumberland County. Council (NCC).
“We have been waiting for a long time for a national screening strategy and this has to do with the funding that is offered to us to be able to continue to manage these programs.
“And there is a risk if we don’t receive additional funding that the PCR capacity has to be reduced for us and that is not something we want to happen to us with the current situation.”
Ms O’Neill was speaking at the last County Council Health and Welfare Board meeting, which was held after the Prime Minister’s veiling of Plan B rules, but before Sunday’s speech to the nation on accelerating the vaccine recall program.
Northumberland currently has the highest rate of PCR testing in the North East, with about half taking place at one of four designated local testing sites (LTS).
The Newcastle Great Park Regional Test Site (RTS) and postal tests each account for an additional fifth each, with the remainder taking place in Mobile Test Units (MTUs), which are regularly stationed in Alnwick, Morpeth and West Hartford.
O’Neill added that additional funding would be needed to ensure testing can remain a “central plank” of the county’s coronavirus prevention plans.
At the same time, concerns are growing about access to LFD testing in Northumberland and beyond.
County pharmacies distribute up to 3,000 a week, in addition to online orders.
The rise of the Omicron variant and the new rules requiring daily testing for close contacts have caused an increase in requests, leading to the exhaustion of the official government website.
But even before that, it was believed that the requirement to download a “collection code” before collecting LFDs from pharmacies repelled some.
NCC Director of Public Health Liz Morgan said: “This is clearly not a policy of local authorities, but national policy to require people to get a code before they can take their test. side flow actually puts an obstacle in the way.
“We have itinerant gangs that go around the county, depositing LFDs in community pharmacies. [and] community places – so post offices, stores, that sort of thing.
“Part of our LFD testing strategy is to make sure we target communities that might find accessing testing quite difficult. “
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