What is it like to take a coronavirus test at a walk-in centre in Sunderland?

People have been reassured about the improved ease of undertaking coronavirus tests as the second nationwide lockdown begins.

Thursday, 5th November 2020, 5:01 pm

Following widespread criticism of the Government’s initial testing system in the spring – which saw many people given appointments hundreds of miles from home – a more localised programme is in operation with two walk-in centres now open in Sunderland and a third likely to follow.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said after touring one of the secured sites, in Commercial Road, Hendon: “It is a simple process. You come in one gate and in less than 15 minutes you will be walking out another and are guided all the way.

"The reason there were horror stories, as you call them, at the start was because there was a national system where people were being told to go to Edinburgh or Carlisle or Richmond because we did not have the infrastructure set up.

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From left, Sunderland City Council leader Councillor Graeme Miller and Toby Rostron Maher, the regional lead for Sodexo, which runs the testing centres on behalf of the Department of Health.

"Now if you book a test you will be able to get a test in Sunderland and that makes everyone’s life easier.”

Anyone booking a test – which are only available for people with symptoms or those who have been officially referred for one – is sent a QR code to their mobile phone.

This is then used to confirm their identity at the walk-in centres and is eventually paired with their subsequent swab to ensure that the right result is sent to the right person.

The swab itself is self-administered in a room to tonsils and a nostril with the help of a mirror while a member of staff watches from distance to ensure the 30-second procedure is followed correctly.

Toby Rostron-Maher, the regional lead for Sodexo, which runs Sunderland's coronavirus testing centres, at the city's Commercial Road centre.

A step-by-step wall guide is also prominent and the room is cleaned both by hand and automatic disinfectant sprays before it is used again.

For those without online access or smart phones, tests can be booked over the phone with centre staff double checking personal details on arrival.

Results will then be texted to people in around 48 hours or are available via phone.

Toby Rostron-Maher, the regional lead for Sodexo, which runs more than 20 test centres across the North East for the Department for Health and Social Care, explained: “It is quite a straight forward process and there will be someone to guide you all the way.”

Michael Simpson praised staff at the Commercial Road centre after visiting the site for a coronavirus test.

While he was unable to disclose how many people had taken tests, he said the Commercial Road site had been “regularly used” since it opened less than a month ago and added: “We have not heard any evidence about people not being able to take a test at their local centre.”

Michael Simpson, 56, from Roker, Sunderland, praised staff at the centre for their organisation.

The kitchen designer took a test at 9.30am after only booking his appointment at 8.30pm the previous evening after developing mild symptoms.

Speaking afterwards, he said: "People should not be worried about the process.

"The staff here have been brilliant and will guide you through what you need to do.

"It was all over in 10 minutes or so and then you can get on with your day. Hopefully it is just winter flu.”

Baroness Dido Harding, interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, said the growing number of walk-in sites offered “communities better access to coronavirus testing”.

She added: This new site is part of our ongoing work to expand our testing network across the UK which is now has the capacity to process more than 500,000 tests a day.

"We will continue to expand capacity to improve test turnaround times and push forward testing innovations to make sure anyone who needs a test can get one.”

*The test centres in Commercial Road and Johnson Street, near the University of Sunderland’s city campus, are open 8am-8pm seven days a week.

Testing is only available for those either with coronavirus symptoms – a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a loss or change to sense or taste – or those who have been asked to get tested by a doctor, public health professional or by their local council.

Appointments must be booked in advance through the national Covid-19 booking system at nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119.

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