Coronavirus tests: Nurseries hit by staff shortage as workers struggle to access testing

Fiona Simpson
Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Difficulty accessing coronavirus tests has left early years providers facing staff shortages due to a lack of tests forcing workers to self-isolate.

Early years staff have reported difficulties accessing tests. Picture: Adobe Stock
Early years staff have reported difficulties accessing tests. Picture: Adobe Stock

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

Increasing numbers of staff struggling to access Covid-19 tests has left settings turning children away or risking closure due to staff shortages, the Early Years Alliance (EYA) has warned.

The alliance has also highlighted that schools and further education providers have been given 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 as of 16 September.

It has raised concerns that despite the policy for schools and further education settings 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”. 

Jacqui Henley, owner and manager of Butterflies Montessori School in Brentwood, said staff waiting for tests was “unsustainable” situation for providers.

“We stayed open all through the lockdown and after closing for the summer holidays, have now been open for the autumn term for one full week. 

“During this week, we have needed four tests for either staff or their children, and two have been unable to obtain them. This is already having a significant effect on staffing. 

“We have 20 teachers and all but two have children, so waiting for tests is going to be unsustainable for staffing ratios. We have signed up for the essential worker portal and have tried to use it but it has had no effect on trying to obtain a test,” she said.

Cathy Walker, nursery manager of Treasures Nursery in Chesterfield, Derbyshire said it had taken one staff member four days to obtain a test and another two staff members three days.

"The results won't be back for 24-72 hours. It is just not good enough,” she said.

Hannah Wilkes, deputy manager of Poppetts Day Nursery in Shenfield, Essex, added: "I currently have two members of staff off with suspected Covid symptoms, one of which more than likely has tonsillitis but cannot see her doctor. She has been advised to self-isolate for 10 days unless she can get a test.   

"They have tried to get a drive-in centre, a walk-in centre and getting the test posted to them, none of which were successful. This is highly important as we need the staff to cover our ratios, and while these staff members are off awaiting a test, I have staff and children possibly at risk too." 

The alliance is calling on the government to urgently ensure early years staff are able to gain priority access to testing and to provide all childcare settings with home testing kits like schools and colleges. 

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the alliance, said: “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.” 

Yesterday (15 September), Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that Covid-19 tests are now having to be prioritised due to a “sharp rise” in people being tested.

He told parliament that the government would be setting out updated prioritisation for testing and suggested that further restrictions could be introduced.

“The top priority is, and always has been, acute clinical care,” he said. “The next priority is social care, where we’re now sending over 100,000 tests a day because we’ve seen the risks this virus poses in care homes.”

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