John Lewis and Waitrose to launch free Covid tests for staff | Business

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John Lewis is working with the NHS to organise free Covid-19 testing for staff at 40 of its sites – including warehouses and stores – in a pilot scheme that could be taken up by other firms and schools.

The business, which also owns Waitrose supermarkets, has been testing lateral flow tests at its Magna Park distribution centre in Milton Keynes since November, and is testing up to 1,000 members of staff up to three times a week. Only four have so far tested positive for the virus.

The scheme is being expanded to 16,000 employees and temporary agency staff each week across the business’s parcel sorting depots, the John Lewis textiles factory and some Waitrose and John Lewis shops.

Testing is voluntary and carried out in a room set up temporarily at each location. Workers can use a kit that enables them to take a swab from their throat that can be handed to a John Lewis member of staff trained by the NHS.

The tests do not require a laboratory to process and provide results within 30 minutes that are fed directly into the national testing database.

It is hoped the scheme will help protect staff and customers and reduce absences and disruption during the festive season, the busiest trading time of the year.

Andrew Murphy, the executive director for operations at the John Lewis Partnership, said: “We’re proud to have helped develop and establish a testing scheme that contributes towards the UK’s fight against Covid-19. We already have a wide range of measures in place to keep our partners and customers safe and rapid testing builds on this at our busiest time of the year.”

The John Lewis pilot could pave the way for further workplace testing after a report by the National Audit Office last week said test and trace, which costs a fifth of the NHS budget, had repeatedly failed to hit targets.

Auditors found that while the government had “rapidly scaled up” the operation, at times parts of the tracing service had barely been used.

However, concerns have been raised about the use of the cheap and quick lateral flow tests being used by John Lewis, which have been found to deliver a significant number of false negatives.

According to a study by Public Health England and Oxford University, of all people to have been found to have Covid using the gold-standard PCR test, which is processed in a laboratory, 77% tested positive on the lateral flow tests.

Dido Harding, the interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection and head of the test-and-trace programme, said: “This pilot is one of many which will lay the foundations for the next phase of NHS test and trace with rapid, targeted testing which will allow us to identify even more people who may be unknowingly carrying the virus, more quickly.

“In addition to the testing taking place in work places such as the John Lewis Partnership, we are carrying out rapid, regular testing in hospitals, care homes, universities and other areas that we value and that we need as a society to stay open and stay safe.”

The health minister said the government had recently published a list of approved private providers of Covid-19 testing to help employers access the services they needed to carry out testing so staff could self-isolate and avoid transmission.

“I’m delighted that the John Lewis Partnership are working alongside us in piloting the latest testing technology. It’s fantastic that such a renowned company is joining us in our efforts to make testing available for workers up and down the country,” James Bethell said.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: John Lewis and Waitrose to launch free Covid tests for staff | Business

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