Community testing in Hackney and City of London

The London borough of Hackney and City of London Corporation launched a rapid testing centre in December alongside other north east London boroughs.

This is part of a series of case-studies published on 1 February 2021.

  • Rapid testing centre launched for public in December
  • Centre proved incredibly popular, but is now being reserved for key workers and people who cannot work from home
  • Supplies of lateral flow tests also being sent to sheltered housing and hostels to test vulnerable groups

What was done?

The London borough of Hackney and City of London Corporation launched a rapid testing centre in December alongside other north east London boroughs.  Ahead of lockdown, it was running seven days a week from 8am to 8pm and worked through a booking system. It was open to anyone in the community who wanted to be tested.

Principal Public Health Specialist Maggie Boreham said: “At the time we were in tier two, but cases were rising at a concerning rate and we needed to work at pace to keep communities safe. But in London the boundaries are so porous. People move around across council areas so it is important to work collaboratively, which we have done across the north east London region.”

The Greater London Authority commissioned a provider, Hub Logistics, to provide staff to run the centres.  Hub Logistic teams vary in size from 7 members of staff to 24 in direct relation to the size of the rapid test centre.

Ms Boreham said: “We were seeing lots of people at the start and over Christmas – it was incredibly well used. Infection rates were rising at the time and there was a lot of concern.  

“Since lockdown restrictions have been introduced, we have seen a drop in numbers using the centre, which we would expect to some extent as people should be staying at home. 

“However, we also know a lot of people cannot work from home, and many people still need to leave their homes to work or volunteer throughout the week. We aim to reach out to these people and encourage them to test at our centres twice a week

“We are still learning about these tests – about false positives and false negative rates. We know these tests are useful when used regularly - roughly once every three days.”

Lessons learned 

Hackney has made adjustments to the testing facility since the launch. It was originally at Stoke Newington town hall, but was then moved to a nearby art gallery. 

Ms Boreham said: “It was bigger, more open and with more natural light. At the town hall we only had three booths, but at the art gallery we have 11, which working at full capacity can process 880 tests a day.  You do need quite a bit of space. You need space behind the booths for the team to process the tests and then someone to record the results.  

“The public are met at the entrance and the process explained to them. You need well-lit spaces so people can see clearly what they are doing and read the information provided - and all the time you need to think about social distancing.” 

Ms Boreham also stressed the importance of having a booking system, which from the outset made booking a test as easy as possible. “We do it by appointment. We want to try to control demand and not have big queues developing outside. That is not good for social distancing and is a concern for local residents.”  

Next steps 

Hackney has supplied lateral flow tests to different settings to allow them to carry out their own rapid testing. This included schools early on before the government announced rapid testing was going to be offered to schools as part of a national programme. 

But moving forward the council has started rolling out lateral flow testing in supported housing projects and with homeless sector providers. “We send nurses and other health staff in to help train staff in how to use the tests and then provide them with on-going support. Both settings work with very vulnerable adults. 

“It may also be harder for these settings and their residents to use the local testing stations for symptomatic testing, so this is an ideal way to support staff and residents in identifying who may be in the early stages of developing the virus through asymptomatic testing.” 

But Ms Boreham said it was also important to remember that testing was just one aspect of the health protection process. “We are keen to stress that accessible support to self-isolate and engagement in contact tracing are equally important aspects, which we have been working on at a local level.

“We need to think about the support we provide for people who test positive. They need help to self-isolate.  

Hackney Council fully supports residents in applying for the government support grant and will also provide a local grant for people who cannot claim the government grant and are in immediate financial difficulties.  

“We are very aware people may be working in jobs where they may not get sick pay or pay if they are isolating. We also work closely with the voluntary sector – they provide really fantastic support to help people. You cannot just test people and then not support them.”