Express testing lab in Dagenham to produce results in as little as six hours

A Covid-19 “express” testing lab is to be opened by a London borough in a sign that councils in the capital are losing faith with the Government’s efforts to help them suppress the virus.

Barking and Dagenham is in talks to use 5,000sq ft of laboratory space at the Londoneast business park in Dagenham for a facility that can produce results in as little as six hours.

It added that priority would be given to teachers, care workers and frontline council staff to enable them to minimise self-isolation times and return to work more swiftly.

Another aim is to reduce the time children spend missing school. It could also test key workers regularly to stop asymptomatic carriers from spreading to virus.

The move follows continued problems with the national test and trace system, which is struggling to cope with the volumes of tests being sought.

Last week the local authority had more than 1,400 school pupils self-isolating in the borough and its public health team has banned visits to care homes after an increase in people testing positive for the virus.

Council leader Darren Rodwell said: “We are just finalising the details. I want to get it right because it needs to work. We lost a lot of our testing capacity in London and that is ridiculous if we have this lab sitting empty.

“There will be a contact number, you phone up and workers can come to our location, have the test done and the turnaround is very quick, around six hours at its fastest.

“We are doing what the Government has asked us but we are looking at what add-ons we can do to improve the system. We want to get kids back into schools where it is safer for them and they’re not interrupting their learning. The same goes for care homes, we don’t want lots of staff isolating.

“If we know about cases quickly it’s better for our residents.

“The problem with the Government is that it is being too centralised with everything that it has done. Councils across the country are able to offer a lot more than what the Government is asking us to do. What we do need in return is the funding to do it.”

The Government has faced criticism over backlogs and delays with tests processed at its the privately run Lighthouse labs. Statistics released this month showed only 26.8 per cent of results were received within 24 hours.

Rachael Burford

Local Democracy Reporter