Early years settings will be given rapid Covid-19 testing kits

Catherine Gaunt
Monday, January 11, 2021

Early years settings will be able to access rapid test kits for Covid-19, children’s minister Vicky Ford has confirmed.

Covid-19 rapid test kits will be rolled out to early years settings PHOTO Adobe Stock
Covid-19 rapid test kits will be rolled out to early years settings PHOTO Adobe Stock

In a tweet, Ms Ford said that asymptomatic testing would be available to early years settings across England.

Otherwise known as lateral flow tests, these rapid testing kits provide much quicker results than standard tests, within 30 minutes and without needing to be sent to a lab.

They are used to identify those with Covid-19 who don’t show symptoms and could pass on the virus without realising, and are routinely used in care homes. 

The Government said that the latest expansion of the testing programme builds on the millions of asymptomatic critical workers being tested every week, such as NHS patient-facing staff and care home staff.

Existing plans for the rapid testing of staff and students in secondary schools and colleges, and staff in primary schools, also remain in place.

Secondary schools have set up testing sites and have started to test staff and pupils who are in school, such as the children of key workers, or vulnerable children. Primary schools will start to receive their test kits shortly for the weekly testing of their staff.

Ms Ford said, ‘Good news that asymptotic [sic] testing is being rolled out across country - I spoke with @ADCStweets and asked them to make sure those working with children are a priority, including staff in Early Years & Children’s Homes and frontline Social Workers.’

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said that it was working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure rapid asymptomatic testing for all early years staff, to support the PM’s announcement for early years settings to remain fully open.

‘We are working with local authorities to put in place an appropriate route for childminders to access these asymptomatic tests.’

The confirmation comes as the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced the expansion of rapid, regular testing for people without symptoms of coronavirus would be made available across the country from this week, with the eligibility of the community testing programme expanded to cover all 317 local authorities.

The DHSC said that 131 local authorities have signed up to community testing, with 107 already having started testing in their communities. Many of these, including Essex and Milton Keynes, are focusing on the testing of key workers and those who must leave home for essential reasons.

Local authorities will be encouraged to target testing at people who are unable to work from home during the national lockdown.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, ‘With roughly a third of people who have coronavirus not showing symptoms, targeted asymptomatic testing and subsequent isolation is highly effective in breaking chains of transmission. Rapid, regular testing is led by local authorities who design programmes based on their in-depth knowledge of the local populations, so testing can have the greatest impact.

‘We are now expanding this offer to every local authority across the country, and asking testing to be targeted on workers who cannot work from home during this national lockdown, while asking employers to work with us to scale up workforce testing.

‘Lateral flow tests have already been hugely successful in finding positive cases quickly – and every positive case found is helping to stop the spread - so I encourage employers and workers to take this offer up. We must all do all we can to stop the spread of Covid, right now.’

Early years sector organisations have welcomed the news.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said, ‘We warmly welcome the news that the Government is planning to roll out mass asymptomatic testing in early years settings.

‘With many providers still understandably incredibly concerned about their safety and wellbeing, it is vital that these plans become a reality as soon as possible, and so we urge to Government to provide confirmation on exactly when and how testing will be rolled out across the sector as a matter of urgency.

‘Of course, testing is only part of the picture and so we continue to call on the government to ensure that providers are also able to access Covid-19 vaccinations as a priority, and that settings are given the financial support that they need to make it through this incredibly difficult period. 

‘Early years providers are doing their utmost to cope in extremely difficult circumstances. It is imperative that the government provides the support they need to remain both safe and sustainable in the long term.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA,For months we have been calling for better access to testing for early years staff, and with schools now closed to most children, the resources must be put into early years settings which are fully open. 

‘Settings are reporting that staff absences are at critical levels due to positive cases and self-isolation, so the DfE must as a priority provide early years settings with rapid testing kits.

‘The priority now must also be vaccination for all early years staff to enable them to continue on the frontline providing support for our youngest children and their families.’

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