More than 100 locations, including parks, supermarkets and faith settings, have been visited – with thousands of test kits handed out to the most hard-to-reach communities.
Those most at risk were not testing
Like many councils, Sheffield set up an asymptomatic testing centre in early 2021 when rapid tests first got rolled out. A sports centre was used with testing offered to those who could not work from home during the third national lockdown.
Asymptomatic Testing Lead Co-ordinator Mark Swancott said: “Initially it was just for council staff, but we then extended to others. It worked well at the time, but with the further rollout of rapid testing it became clear we needed to take a different approach to reach out to those communities who were most likely not to be engaged with rapid testing.”
Sheffield has 118 neighbourhoods that fall into the 20 per cent most deprived nationally. Five of these are within the 1 per cent most deprived in England.
Our intelligence was telling us it was the communities that were most at risk that were least likely to be engaging with the rapid testing. It is wrong to assume everyone is aware of what is on offer and how to access the tests.
“It is easy to order them online if you know they are there and are digitally connected, but we were finding people had never heard of lateral flow tests, never mind where to go to get hold of them," Mr Swancott said.
The council responded by converting one of its fleet of welfare buses, equipped with a toilet and sink, into a mobile rapid testing clinic. The staff who were working in the rapid testing centre were used to start taking the rapid testing bus out into community settings from May.
Taking the mobile units across the city
It proved incredibly successful. In the first six weeks, more than 10,000 rapid testing kits were handed out and 400 assisted lateral flow tests performed.
“We did a soft launch to start with by going to a park where we thought there would be lots of people to see what the interest was. Over time, the approach has evolved. We are still going to areas where there is high footfall. We have set up outside supermarkets, at the indoor market, in parks and in the city centre at the bus garage. But we have also started working with different organisations and groups.
“For example, we have attended an open day at a local Muslim centre and run events with local community and health groups. We’ve been to an asylum seeker hostel too. By working with trusted organisations, you are immediately at an advantage because you are trusted.
“It is not just about handing out test kits or carrying out tests, it is about having an opportunity to have a quality conversation. Our staff ask how people are doing, what sort of support they need and about vaccination.
Some people have been put off testing because of concerns about finances or caring responsibilities – our team is able to explain what support is on offer to break down some of those barriers that may stop people from wanting to get testing.
“We also did some myth-busting training on vaccinations with them so they could address that and followed it up with some work with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals to run some mobile vaccination clinics afterwards.”
The approach worked so well that by late summer a second bus was deployed and the council now has a team of more than 20 staff working on the rapid testing service.
“We have seen huge demand for the rapid tests in recent weeks, particularly in the lead up to Christmas. I think people have really got familiar with them now, but we are still going out six or seven days a week.
“As winter came, we did have to alter our approach a bit. We set up inside where we could as the weather did not always make it practical to set up a gazebo and do it outside.”
Asymptomatic Testing Lead Co-ordinator
Sheffield City Council