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Looking Back At The Highland Council And NHS Highland's Community Testing Programme

17th June 2022

Photograph of Looking Back At The Highland Council And NHS Highland's Community Testing Programme

On April 22nd 2021, a custom-fitted articulated lorry was parked outside The Highland Council's Headquarters. The vehicle had been nick-named "Jabbernaut" and staff inside were assisting people in testing themselves for COVID-19. It was a trial for the Community Testing Programme, a project run in partnership with NHS Highland and The Highland Council. Over the next year, the Community Testing Programme set up similar events across the Highlands, in response to the pandemic.

Following a decision by the Scottish Government, in early 2021, to introduce mass asymptomatic testing to the Scottish public, a partnership was set up between NHS Highland, Argyll & Bute Council, Live Argyll and The Highland Council to deliver assisted asymptomatic testing throughout the NHS Highland area. A steering group was set up involving representatives of all partners. Whilst Argyll & Bute opted to set up a fixed site in Helensburgh, along with the ability to set up pop sites in rural locations, operated by Live Argyll, The Highland Council chose to provide a mobile service utilising three adapted heavy goods vehicles which were converted to mobile surgeries by staff from the council's Building Maintenance Team.

Each of the three units ("Jabbernaut", “Testalot” and “Moves Like Jagger”) were set up to serve as either a mobile vaccination clinic or a mobile test centre. When deployed, each unit required a minimum of four staff to operate and were accompanied by three support vehicles - a welfare unit, a combined generator/stores van and a van containing the access platforms.

In conjunction with the Steering Group meetings, a local tactical group, comprising relevant staff from The Highland Council and NHS Highland, met on a weekly basis to discuss deployment and other relevant issues.

During the twelve months of operation, deployments were carried out throughout the Highlands with informed decisions on location being guided by intelligence from NHS Highland. In total, 52 separate deployments were carried out. Most of these were for a five day duration. Units were available to the public on 185 days. On 14 occasions two units were deployed, simultaneously, at separate locations. Between the units and support vehicles, over 11,500 miles were clocked up. 2485 assisted tests were carried out, and staff handed out 466 PCR test kits to members of the public who turned up with symptoms and, therefore, couldn't be tested within the unit.

The Highland Council’s Communications and Resilience department used multiple platforms to notify the public of locations and times of deployments, and to encourage testing. Press and media in the region were regularly updated, and local radio advertisements were broadcast daily. Images and videos were produced each week for social media and were distributed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Over time, as people became used to taking LFD tests, there was less need to have on-site testing. From November 2021, a model called “Outreach Delivery” was used to further encourage the public to test on a regular basis. This involved small teams travelling to locations throughout the Highland Council area handing out test kits. Between the beginning of November 2021 and the middle of April 2022, staff visited 175 locations, travelling over 6,000 miles and handing out 65,700 test kits.

In March 2022, the Scottish Government announced that asymptomatic testing would end on Monday 18th April and The Highland Council’s Asymptomatic Testing team’s last deployment finished on Thursday 14th April.

“Jabbernaut”, “Testalot” and “Moves Like Jagger” continue to be used as vaccination clinics. If there is ever a requirement, in future, to provide testing in support of measures to contain local outbreaks or for intelligence purposes, The Highland Council has retained sufficient equipment and trained staff to enable a deployment at short notice, if required.


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