New Covid testing site to open at shut down Kingsgate Community Centre
But concerns raised over low uptake at established test centre in Bloomsbury
16 December, 2020 — By Richard Osley
Kingsgate Community Centre will be used for tests ‘by Christmas’
A SHUT down community centre is set to become a new Covid-19 testing centre “imminently”.
Piers Simey, Camden’s acting director of public health, said last night (Tuesday) that he thought a service for people living in the north west of the borough would be up and running at the former Kingsgate Community Centre before Christmas.
He said this would create a “triangle” of testing sites alongside a unit at Greenwood Place in Kentish Town and the Ramsay Hall site which opened last month in Bloomsbury.
Meanwhile, Camden is preparing to begin “mass testing” in schools to try and reduce disruption to lessons after Christmas.
The plans come with the number of coronavirus infections rising and London today joining the ‘tier 3’ areas with the strictest restrictions.
But as the strategy was discussed at a council scrutiny meeting, there was a warning about the low uptake in tests.
Labour councillor Rishi Madlani said he had visited the Ramsay Hall test centre in Maple Street – set up with the help of UCL in one of the university’s buildings – and been told by a security guard that there had been no users over the weekend.
He said: “I just wonder if we are advertising the slots and availability correctly. What more should we be doing to promote the availability of the service? Because I found it quite surprising that no one had been there. I think it was on Saturday or Sunday that I spoke to this gent.”
Mr Simey said there had now been an increase in use, telling the meeting that last week there had been 990 tests at Ramsay Hall.
He said: “We are increasing testing rates across London and in Camden. My hope above hope is the signs that I’ve had where it is imminent, and definitely before Christmas, that the Kingsgate Community Centre will go online in Kilburn. That will create a triangle, if you like, of testing sites to go alongside the mobile testing unit in Greenwood Place, which itself in that week saw 1,100 tests – not all our residents to be fair, but that is a thriving centre. We’re keeping it and I’ve asked for it to return to daily testing. ”
Mr Simey had been asked about provision in the north west of the borough by Liberal Democrat councillor Luisa Porritt, the former MEP who is also running as a London mayoralty candidate.
The community centre in Kingsgate Road announced it was closing after running out of cash during the virus lockdown with nobody able to book the venue.
On Ramsay Hall, Mr Simey said “we’ve gone from a very worrying level initially”, adding: “I don’t know the natural trajectory when you set up these sites because clearly you don’t build them and they [users] come without promotion.”
There had been attempts at social media promotion and new signs in the area, he told the meeting.
Council chief executive Jenny Rowlands added: “We were all concerned about the low level of usage of what I think we were told was the biggest testing site in London. The last data I’ve got was it was up to about 25 per cent capacity, which is considerably higher than it was before.”
She said that there was now a “local booking” option with people able to arrange slots through the council and not just the national number.
“We’re trying to get an all resident letter out, but we keep holding it because the message keeps changing over Christmas,” Ms Rowlands said.
In schools, deputy chief executive Martin Pratt told councillors that plans for mass testing had been announced by the government and the council was working on the logistics.
He said “We are now developing these arrangements. It will mean a big mobilisation of council staff and school staff and other community partners and we are likely to be in a position where many of the ‘business as usual’ services are going to be under pressure.”
“We’re going to have to make some difficult decisions about where we place resources.”
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