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Strange Secrecy of Silence Surrounds SCC’s Onslow P&R Covid-19 Testing Centre

Published on: 8 May, 2020
Updated on: 9 May, 2020

Onslow Park & Ride Covid-19 testing centre on May 7, 2020. Photo taken from the footpath on the A3.

By Martin Giles and Hugh Coakley

Surrey County Council is keeping silent on the progress of the new by-appointment-only Covid-19 testing centre hurriedly created without notice at the Onslow Park & Ride last week. The centre was in operation for over 24 hours before its arrival was officially announced with an SCC press release worded as if the centre had still to open.

Only short queues of two or three cars at most were observed on the approach road.

The overall testing of key workers reporting possible symptoms and other specified categories had started on April 28, two days before the government’s promised target of 100,000 tests a day. Yesterday, for the fourth day running, the rate has fallen far short of that.

Surrey County Council oversaw the set-up and is responsible for associated communications. So that evening, we asked the council the following questions:

  1. What catchment area will the centre serve?
  2. How many tests will it have the capacity to conduct daily?
  3. How many tests have been conducted each day so far?
  4. Who is staffing the centre?
  5. Where will the samples be processed?
  6. How long will results take?
  7. How will the results be communicated?
  8. How can those without cars attend?
  9. Why was there no public announcement before the centre was set up and testing commenced?

Same approach road queue on April 29

A week later, despite reminder emails, no response has been received. County councillors Fiona White (Lib Dem, Guildford West) and David Goodwin (Lib Dem, Guildford South West) have been asked to comment.

Two readers have written to The Dragon claiming little or no testing was being done so Dragon reporter Hugh Coakley went to observe. He found about 30 cars an hour approaching the Onslow Covid-19 testing centre on the afternoon of Tuesday (May 6).

A Serco operative confirmed there had been a steady stream of people for testing at the centre over the past few days. He said there had been a problem with the booking system over a couple of days but that was now resolved. He politely declined to say how many people had been tested because operatives had been instructed not to give out information.

Many vehicles were arriving with two or more occupants

Many vehicles were arriving with two or more occupants including children. Mr Coakley spoke to some of those arriving for testing, from a safe distance on the road verge. One was an NHS worker and two others said they were classed as key workers.

The NHS staff member said he had organised the test himself. That had been “fairly straightforward”, he added. The key workers said their employers had made the arrangements for them.

One man arrived in a van to repair a cabin. Asked if he was concerned about catching the virus himself at the centre, he replied: “I have to keep going for everybody else.”

Reporter Coakley asked to visit the testing site and was given a contact number of a Serco person who gave a holding response. The Dragon has been unable to make contact with Serco since on that number despite five further attempts.

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Responses to Strange Secrecy of Silence Surrounds SCC’s Onslow P&R Covid-19 Testing Centre

  1. Peta Malthouse Reply

    May 9, 2020 at 6:51 pm

    Not entirely certain why the govt has seen fit to give contracts for these ‘drive-through’ testing facilities because not all key workers can afford cars and they are very out of the way. Why ask a firm of accountants (Deloitte) and Serco who have messed up* quite a lot of the contracts they have been given by the government when we have local health authorities and loads of community centres which cannot at present be used.

    Us girls are used to turning up for breast scanning at Tescos and so on, all managed by the Jarvis Health Centre and Borough Councils who are used to carrying out testing.

    Why aren’t we working together on this? Deloitte ran the one at Chessington which failed to record to whom the test results should be sent. We are not going to leave lockdown safely until this is working properly.


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