Community testing in Luton

We are incredibly proud of the rapid test centres. Their success is down to the participation of our community, who value the service highly, and the brilliant staff. 

This is part of a series of case-studies published on 5 February 2021.

  • Three community testing sites established in December - in the space of six weeks 45,000 rapid tests carried out 
  • Centres use testing operatives to guide people through test 
  • Working with major employers to do testing among staff 

What was done? 

Luton opened three community rapid testing centres in early December – one at the main library and another two at community centres. The sites are overseen by managers from the council, but have used a mixture of temporary staff who have received training.

The centres are open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week and work on a drop-in basis so residents do not have to book in advance.  

Public Health Service Manager Ciceley Scarborough, who has been overseeing the rapid testing service, said: “We wanted to make them as accessible as possible. We did not want to put any barriers in the way.

“It seems to have worked. We were expecting 1,000 people a day – that’s what we built the capacity for – but there were points before Christmas at our peak of demand when we got 2,000. 

“We brought in queue management security staff to help manage the queues and ensure social distancing was being adhered to.  But we still thought it was best to keep it as a drop-in service. Since lockdown, the numbers have understandably dropped.” 

By late January 45,000 tests have been carried out with around 1900 positives. “That is 1,900 people who would have been walking around unaware they had the virus and potentially passing it on. It shows the value of doing this rapid testing,” added Ms Scarborough. 

Luton Director of Public Health Lucy Hubber added: "We are incredibly proud of the rapid test centres. Their success is down to the participation of our community, who value the service highly, and the brilliant staff. 

We have been very fortunate to have kind, friendly, caring staff who go out of their way to make the process as easy and stress-free as possible, including providing special support to people who are vulnerable or anxious.

We know that these tests have helped us find cases that otherwise wouldn’t have been found.

Lessons learned 

Luton has worked hard to keep void rates low and ensure the tests return as accurate a result as possible. Each centre has six booths with a testing operative sat behind the Perspex screen to provide some advice and guidance to people coming forward for testing. 

Ms Scarborough said: “The testing operative is just there to make sure the person is doing the test properly and to perform the operation that shows the results on the lateral flow device. They remind them of the need to swab the nose and throat for the right length of time and make sure they insert the swabs far enough in.” 

To help improve performance, the council has increased the amount of training testing operatives are given and ensure that quality control is built in as part of standard processes, employing techniques like observed practice to keep any voids through operator error to an absolute minimum. 

Ms Scarborough said: “Because we are running the service rather than commissioning it we have been able to be very response to feedback and address any issues that are raised. You have to remember this is a completely new service for most councils – it is not the sort of thing pre COVID-19 we would normally get involved with – so we are learning all the time, and using that learning to improve. We have worked with PHE and liaised closely with other councils to share knowledge – that has been invaluable.” 

Next steps 

Since last August the council has a mobile testing team that have been deployed to carry out rapid testing when there have been outbreaks at workplaces and in other settings. This team of 15 is drawn from leisure staff and health improvement practitioners, who have been trained in COVID-19 testing but use their skill set to put people at their ease.

They can be deployed a short-notice to run pop-up testing sites. Ms Scarborough said the council is working closely with employers  to be proactive as well as reactive. 

“To date, this team has been sent out when we have had an outbreak. But we would like to do even more preventative work with employers, sending them testing kits and helping support them to do regular testing on their staff. 

“We have big employers like Vauxhall and Arriva whose staff work on production lines or on buses and are at higher risk. There are lots of small employers too who we could support. We are keen to offer different levels of support to suit the needs of the employer, and this is certainly an area we are continuing to explore

“As well as working with employers, the public health team in Luton has done extensive work to support schools with their own testing sites and to encourage key workers to use the community sites as often as they would like.”