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Testing shambles: unions must fight back
The government claims that testing for key workers in the NHS, care and schools is provided.
Yet care homes are reporting that when they can get tests, it's taking 15 days or more to get the results. And Enfield Council, for example, says that only 19 out of 79 care homes have access to tests.
The position for school workers and students is no better. Up to 25,000 teachers may be self-isolating in England, according to a survey by Teacher Tapp. Thousands of students will have been sent home, and thousands more will have been kept in class despite symptoms.
Many are unable to find out if they are positive as they cannot get tested. Most of those who can are testing negative, but losing out on schooling because of the delays in getting that test.
One headteacher in the South of England summed up the frustration: "It's all a nightmare. I have three staff off, not because they have symptoms, but someone in their household does and they cannot get a test...
"How am I supposed to run a school in these circumstances? Working ridiculous hours; and now I have a local authority inspection next week; and told I must reduce my budget deficit next year. No wonder no one wants to be a head!"
The east London borough of Redbridge, just after the government closed its walk-in test centre, reported it had the capital's top infection rate, 37 per 100,000 of the population. At least seven Redbridge schools have confirmed cases, with some saying they could be days away from wholesale closure.
This is a picture that is mirrored around the county. In Bradford, after a school outbreak, the union found itself in a battle not with the head, but with the local public health authority. It had told the school not to send home 'bubbles', but instead to draw a two-metre line around the child's seat, and only send those that were within it home!
The government is to blame for these failures. It is a mistake not to provide regular testing for school workers. Even a former Tory health minister has called for it.
It was a mistake to allow bubbles of 300 or 400 pupils, instead of listening to school unions and keeping the bubbles small, bringing in supply teachers, commandeering local resources and using 'blended learning'. Local councils share the blame for not implementing this locally and fighting for the funds to support it.
These failures mean children are removed from school unnecessarily, having already missed six months of class. Parents are then faced with having to take time off work at little or no notice, with no pay. And school workers are being stretched to the limit.
The unions must now seek to galvanise the growing anger, and to try and avoid any division between parents and workers. We must organise joint protests and ballots for industrial action.
In The Socialist 23 September 2020:
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