Looking Back At The Highland Council And NHS Highland's Community Testing Programme
17th June 2022
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.
Nominations are being invited from people seeking election to 15 Highland community councils covering areas in Caithness Sutherland, Easter Ross, Wester Ross, Isle of Raasay, the Black Isle, Inverness, Nairnshire, Badenoch and Strathspey and Lochaber. Community Councils are voluntary organisations that express the views and concerns of local people within their area across a wide range of issues from new buildings and roads to local services and facilities.
COSLA leaders meet tomorrow (Friday 5 August 2022) to discuss the local government pay offer and how they can avert substantial, long term, strikes in 1200 schools and early years centres and waste and recycling centres in councils across Scotland . UNISON is urging COSLA to use this leaders meeting to agree a substantially improved pay offer to avert serious disruption across Scotland - otherwise few if any councils will avoid some level of significant disruption.
The Highland Council is urging businesses - particularly those in the tourism and hospitality sectors - to be prepared for the end of relaxation of planning and building warrant controls on 30 September 2022. In line with changes to the COVID-19 guidance from the Scottish Government many of the pandemic mitigations that were put in place in terms of the provision of temporary structures and their uses – are no longer required.
The Highland Council has launched a public consultation to ask people's views on where and how they would like to see free period products made available in the Highland area. In 2021, Scotland became the first country to pass a law to make period products freely available and reasonably easily accessible to anyone who needs them.
At the Highland Council meeting held on, 30 June 2022, elected Members agreed to progress the submission of two separate bids for round two of the UK Levelling Up Fund, these include the North Coast 500 (Transport Bid) and Portree Harbour (standalone Heritage bid). Economy and Infrastructure Committee Chair, Cllr Ken Gowans said: "The Levelling Up Fund offers Highland an opportunity to bid for funds that will make a transformational impact across our communities.
Members of full Council, who met yesterday - Thursday, 30 June – were presented with a report on the UK Government's Shared Prosperity Fund and provided with an update on the process currently underway to develop a Highland Investment Plan which will determine how the funding may be used locally. A financial allocation of £9,445,515 has been awarded to Highland Council over a three-year period, which runs from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2025.
At the Highland Council meeting held yesterday, 30 June 2022, elected Members approved a package of support totalling £3.639m for low-income households and economic growth. The approved package consists of: £0.591m - one-off grants of £125 each will be paid automatically for around 4,700 vulnerable children and young people in Primary 1 to 6th year who received school clothing grants as at 31 May 2022.
A report outlining the key points within The Highland Council's annual accounts for the year to 31st March 2022 was presented to full Council today (30 June 2022), ahead of their submission for full audit. The report shows that the Council continued to demonstrate strong financial management during financial year 2021/22, with an overall surplus of £9m recorded against the revenue budget for the general fund.
Councillor Ron Gunn, who represents the Thurso and Northwest Sutherland Ward of The Highland Council, has been appointed as Chair of the new Caithness Committee which met for the first time (Friday 1 July 2022). After taking the Chair, Cllr Gunn thanked Members for their support and then called for nominations to the roles of Vice Chairs and Civic Leaders for Thurso and Wick.
A pioneering bid for Green Freeport status by the Opportunity Cromarty Firth (OCF) consortium today received seismic boost after Members of Highland Council homologated the local authority's cross-chamber support. Members agreed their continued support for the OCF project and Green Freeport bid and acknowledged the potential benefits to the Highland region.