Coronavirus testing in the DWP

23 Apr 2020

It has been reported in the media that DWP staff are to be tested for coronavirus. PCS has received a number of enquiries from members around this issue, but the proposal is not as has been reported and there will not be widespread testing in DWP.

DWP have lobbied for their key workers to be included in those being tested.  They see it as a positive step as it recognises the importance of DWP as key workers, which maybe explains the positive spin in the press.  They are hoping that tests will start in England this week.

However, those being tested are ranked in a priority order. DWP staff are ranked into group three.  Underneath that DWP have created 5 different sub categories of who they think should be tested as the highest priority, based on their definition of most "business critical".  PCS have not agreed to these categories.

Not everyone will be tested. 

The proposal is for an antigen test to be carried out, which can distinguish if a person has Covid 19 or not. The only staff who will be tested are those recorded on SOP as self-isolating for suspected coronavirus who normally work in the office, or those self-isolating due to a family member having symptoms - with the family member also being tested. 

If you are found not to have the virus the expectation is you will return to work quicker, once you are well enough to do so. PCS have asked for and received assurances that if your test is negative once, and you have symptoms again, you should self-isolate and be tested a second time.  Anybody working from home will not be tested.

PCS concerned

PCS has concerns as to the location of proposed test venues. It is likely that they not be as accessible as we would wish and often nowhere near where members live. That might not be an issue if you have a car and are well enough to drive to the testing centre - where you can have a drive thru test.  However, if you don’t drive, and with the DWP instruction, rightly, not to use public transport with coronavirus symptoms, we are concerned this will limit the number of tests available to our members who need them.

PCS don’t believe this is the right approach as it minimises those that are eligible for testing and, for the few that are tested, there will be some individuals who manage to get back to work quicker than the 7-14 days self-isolation.  PCS have made clear our preference for whole offices, or at least a team, to be tested at a time. We believe this will keep our members safer and ensure workplaces are placed at a reduced risk.

Unfortunately, DWP have confirmed that this will not be the process as the tests being used can only tell if an individual has Covid 19 at the time of testing, and they will not test anyone that is not showing symptoms. This falls short on our view and opens up the possibility of members returning to or remaining in work, when it is not safe to do so.

DWP have pointed out that they have no influence on the NHS testing centre locations nor on the NHS guidelines regarding only testing individuals who are symptomatic. PCS acknowledge these points and that the DWP say that they are working very much within the government guidelines and, due to the limited number of tests, have had to prioritise those within DWP whose testing would have the greatest impact on our workforce. By prioritising “frontline benefit workers” who are attending the office this will provide clarity for those individuals affected and their colleagues.

PCS will continue to ask for the as much use of available testing as possible, as well as continuing to pursue the priority of maximising the numbers above to work from home.

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