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Redbridge residents are still facing “lengthy waits” for blood tests in some parts of the borough, despite three temporary clinics opening last week.
Queues for blood tests at Loughton Health Centre, the only clinic offering blood tests during lockdown, reportedly extended around the corner, with some patients fainting while waiting.
Ceri Jacobs, managing director of Redbridge’s clinical commissioning group (CCG), said they were “genuinely sorry” at a health scrutiny committee meeting on October 1.
She told the committee the service is “experiencing really high levels of demand”, as well as a backlog of cases, and has had to “increase capacity as far as we can and as quickly as we can”.
Committee chair Cllr Neil Zammett (Lab, Goodmayes) recognised everyone was “blindsided by Covid-19” but questioned the decision to close Wanstead’s blood test unit in March.
He asked: “Who made the decision to close the Wanstead unit and send people to Loughton in what were clearly unacceptable conditions?”
He added he saw queue markers outside the Loughton Health Centre extending as far as the bus stop around the corner and heard stories of people fainting “due to a lack of water”.
Cathy Turland, from Healthwatch Redbridge, told the committee she contacted Loxford Polyclinic at the start of September and was told there was an 8 to 10 week wait for tests.
She said: “A lot of people need a two-week turnaround for these tests. Many elderly people are getting very stressed by the amount of phone calls they are having to make to sort things out.
“A lot of people also can’t travel across swathes of public transport (to get a test), particularly when public transport to some of these areas from Redbridge is extremely poor.”
In late March, Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust stopped offering blood tests except to select groups of patients to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The majority of patients are now supposed to receive blood tests either through their GP or at a community clinic, such as the Loughton Health Centre.
A total of 18 GPs have so far signed up to offer blood tests, with Ceri Jacobs adding that they expect to have more sign up “over the next few days”.
To help cope with the backlog of patients, three temporary blood test centres opened in Redbridge on September 21, including one in Wanstead.
The CCGs for Redbridge, Havering and Barking & Dagenham had already been planning to dramatically change their blood test service for about a year prior to the pandemic.
A report prepared for the health scrutiny meeting said the three CCGs are developing the case to “maintain new local arrangements”.
They will begin consulting on the plans in mid-November, with the intention of implementing them in April next year.