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‘Significant challenges’ around access to Covid-19 testing, public health boss tells Camden Council

Councillors at Camden Council’s Covid-19 scrutiny panel criticised a test and trace system “not happening as it should”, and also further explored the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.

The committee was also told the town hall continues to face a £32m funding gap due to the impact of the pandemic – but it does expect this figure to decrease with further government support for lost income.

Discussing test and trace, health chief Cllr Pat Callaghan said: “I wouldn’t say it’s collapsed but it’s not happening as it should. Somebody from London recently was asked to go to Cambridge for a test. A child was off school and told to wait five days for a test. It isn’t working and parents are worried.”

READ MORE: Ham&High joins calls for Whitehall to keep promise and do ‘everything possible’ to support local government’s Covid-hit financesThe borough’s public health director Julie Billett added: “We’re experiencing significant challenges with regard to access to testing for residents. It’s all about laboratory capacity. We’re aware the available capacity is being prioritised to support local authorities nationally with a higher incidence rate.” She said at this stage, though cases were rising, Camden was not in this category.

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Julie added: “Clearly it’s really critical from the perspective of residents. It’s inhibiting our ability as an authority to have a really good understanding of the spread in the borough. It’s very difficult to build an argument that we have a workable system at the moment.”

She advised residents to take a “precautionary approach” should they develop Covid-19 symptoms but struggle to get a test.

The council’s finance chief Cllr Richard Olszewski, discussing the borough’s financial pressures, said: “It’s important to stress the huge degree of uncertainty. At the moment the estimate on the basis of the info we know is a net gap of about £32m. We can be reasonably hopeful that will decrease.”

The government has so far contributed around £23m in support, but Cllr Olszewski said there was a “huge degree of uncertainty about what our eventual position is going to be” as details of a promised Whitehall compensation scheme for lost income from fees and charges remained “in development”.

The committee also discussed a comprehensive report into the structural inequalities exacerbated by Covid-19 – council bosses have committed to working closely with BAME voluntary groups, improving housing support and tackling long-term health issues in deprived communities.

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