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Coronavirus test shortage hits early years providers

By Rachel Lawlercoronavirus tests for childcare workers

The Alliance has received a number of reports of childcare staff being unable to work after experiencing difficulties accessing coronavirus tests, causing widespread staff shortages.

Priority for critical workers
According to government guidance, practitioners working in nurseries, pre-schools or childminding settings should be given priority access to tests as critical workers. However, many childcare providers have reported being unable to access any test at all. 

Testing delays
Tina Reynolds, a childminder based in Littlehampton, explained: "On Monday morning, one of my sons developed a cough and I was advised keep him off school until he has been tested. This meant our house being put into self-isolation. 

"Since then I have had no luck obtaining home tests, drive-through or even walk-through tests and have now been advised to just stay at home and prepare for the 10 days isolation time. This has meant upsetting parents and letting them down at short notice. Sadly, this isn't a unique story." 

Cathy Walker, nursery manager of Treasures Nursery in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, added: "We are having major problems getting staff tested and have had three staff with symptoms who have had to take time off work. It has taken one staff member four days and the others three days to even get a test, and the results won't be back for 24 -72 hours. It is just not good enough.

“We can't get test kits to keep at nursery for staff. I looked at a company who wanted to charge £113 per test, which we cannot afford." 

Test kits for schools and colleges
All schools and further education providers have been supplied with an initial supply of 10 home testing kits to be used for staff and children who “may have barriers to accessing testing elsewhere”, with the ability to order further kits from 16 September onwards.

However, the Department for Education has confirmed to the Alliance that “at this stage, there is no further information on home testing kits for early years providers”.

This is despite the fact that childcare providers have been able to open to all children since 1 June 2020.

Practitioners on the frontline
The Alliance has called on the government to urgently ensure that early years staff are given priority access to testing and to provide all childcare settings with home testing kits to align with the approach taken with schools and colleges. 

Priority testing
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “Early years providers have been on the frontline throughout this crisis, putting themselves at risk in order to continue providing the care and education that families need for little reward and even less recognition. 

“The absolute least the government could do is to ensure that those working in the sector who need a test can access one without delay – and yet, it is clear from the reports that we are receiving that despite being promised priority testing status alongside other key workers, in too many cases, this simply isn’t happening. 

“Worse still is that weeks after schools and colleges have been given home testing kits, those working in the early years seem to have been completely forgotten. Given that childcare practitioners spend their days in particularly close contact with young children, there is simply no excuse for this inconsistency. 

“With early years settings already under extreme financial pressure, being forced to turn some children away or potentially close entirely as a result of staff shortages could be the final straw for many struggling providers. As such, it is pivotal that the government takes urgent action on this matter, and ensure that childcare providers are able to access tests – for both themselves and members of their households – without delay.” 

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