Community testing in Kirklees

Kirklees was part of the early wave of areas to put itself forward for community testing.

This is part of a series of case-studies published on 15 January 2021.

  • Four community testing centres were set up in mid-December
  • More than 20,000 people came forward in just over two weeks
  • Testing units are now targeting key workers during lockdown

What was done

Kirklees was part of the early wave of areas to put itself forward for community testing. It was given permission by the government to offer it for anyone in the borough who did not have COVID-19 symptoms on 10 December.

RAF support was provided to help get the service up and running and within a fortnight thousands of residents had started to be tested. Testing centres were established in four locations across the borough, offering lateral flow testing on a drop-in basis from 8am to 8pm every day of the week.

Director of Public Health Rachel Spencer-Henshall said: “The RAF help was invaluable. They worked with us on the logistics and planning so we identified the right buildings and way to configure them and then helped train our staff in how to use the tests.

“We also looked at the data to see where to site them – we wanted to have them in areas where there had been high rates. We thought it would help break some of those chains in transmission.”

The testing centre sites chosen were the council’s customer service building in Dewsbury, libraries in Batley and Ravensthorpe and a facility on the outskirts of Huddersfield.

By the start of the third lockdown, more than 20,000 people had come forward. There were 300 positives. Each positive is confirmed with a PCR test with details passed on to NHS Test and Trace.

Ms Spencer-Henshall said: “We have had the worried well and just before Christmas we had huge demands with people wanting to check if they were positive before mixing.

“We have been careful to spell out what a negative test means – explaining that no test is 100% positive and, of course, it is only a measure at that particular point in time. It is not a ‘get out of jail card’. But the level of interest has been really pleasing. People have wanted to play their part.”

Lessons learned

As the first council in its region to put itself forward for community testing, the council was able to generate substantial local media interest in the launch of the programme and get people talking about the opportunity to get tested and support their community.

Ahead of the testing centres being launched, the council ran a communications campaign called “Play Your Part”. Emails were sent to residents and it was promoted on social media as well as via digital advertising on high streets.

Social media posts and films have also been made of people coming forward for tests, including the cabinet member responsible for health and social care.

Communications Lead Alex Carey said: “We wanted to show how easy and simple taking the test was to reach out to different communities. In fact, promotion this way has grown organically. We’ve seen other people come forward and do similar things – it has proved a great way engage some of the hard-to-reach communities.”

To help make it easy for people to come forward, the testing locations are displayed on the council’s website along with the opening hours and estimated waiting times. 

Kirklees has also used the testing centres as an opportunity to engage residents. Ms Spencer-Henshall said: “We have staff available to talk to residents when they are queuing. Part of it is explaining about the testing process, but we also talk to them about what they would do if they are positive and ask them if there are any barriers to stop them self-isolating.“

Next steps

After lockdown started, Kirklees started targeted the testing at key workers. Ms Spencer-Henshall said: “People are being asked to stay at home so we felt it would not be right to encourage them to come to the testing centres – and also if they are not mixing it would not serve the purpose it is intended for.

“But, for some, staying at home isn’t an option, because of the job they do. So, we’re encouraging critical workers, who still need to go out to work in our communities to get tested once a week at one of our testing centres. This is one way they can help keep themselves and their family safe.”

Kirklees is also offering high-risk workplaces access to targeted testing. This includes places such as food factories and community health services. Ms Spencer-Henshall said: “Some high-risk workers, like posties, can quite easily call in to our testing centres or if a workplace wants to send significant numbers we can keep some capacity free.

“But we are also offering some workplaces the option of carrying out tests themselves. We work with them to train them on what to do and supply them with the tests.”

“We are pushing the boundaries on this so you have to appreciate it has to be just one part of a wider strategy. It is not a golden ticket. But we think it can play an important role going forward.”