School staff who are showing symptoms of coronavirus will now be will be able to access free tests, the government has announced.
Matthew Hancock, the health secretary, said during today’s Downing Street briefing that employers of essential workers and those workers themselves will be able to secure tests online.
“We can make it easier, faster and simpler for any essential worker in England who needs a test to get a test,” he said.
“From today, employers of essential workers will be able to go on Gov.uk to get a test for any of their staff who need a test.
“And from tomorrow any essential workers who need a test will be able to book an appointment themselves on gov.uk directly.
“This all applies for people in essential workers’ households too who need a test. It’s all part of getting Britain back on her feet.”
The Department of Health has since updated its list of “essential workers” eligible for testing, to include those working in education and childcare. This includes support and teaching staff, social workers and specialist education professionals.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said this was a “welcome step”.
“School staff have been on the front line in the national response to Coronavirus. We have been clear from the start that governments across the UK understand they must honour this effort with the appropriate level of support and safety.
“If testing can be delivered effectively, then it will be welcomed by the education sector.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Our call for testing has been unceasing. The government has been slow to respond, and there will be a fear amongst school staff that this promise will follow the pattern of previous pledges to contain the virus.
“Our members will not tolerate dither and delay. They need certainty and, from the health secretary, swift action to make this promise a reality.”
How the testing system will work
Essential workers using the new portal can enter their details and will receive a text or email the same day inviting them to either book an appointment at one of more than 30 drive-through testing sites across the country, or receive a home testing kit.
Test results from the drive-through sites will be sent out by text within 48 hours, and within 72 hours of collection of the home delivery tests.
The aim is that most people should not have to drive for more than 45 minutes to get to a regional testing site.
However, additional testing methods are being rolled-out to support testing accessibility. They include a network of new mobile testing units, which will travel to care homes, police stations and other sites where there is demand for testing.
A delivery service for home testing kits has been designed with companies including Amazon and Royal Mail. It will come online from tomorrow, although the availability of these kits will be “initially limited”.