Rapid Covid tests being provided for residents in a hotspot area are being snapped up by outsiders, a councillor has claimed.
But there are concerns that people from outside the area, and even outside Staffordshire, are booking the limited number of available slots, leaving some local residents struggling to get tested.
People turning up for community sessions organised by the county council are not currently asked for proof of address, meaning there is no way of knowing whether it is local people who are taking up the appointments, as intended.
Council officials say they are reluctant to start asking for identification, as it may put some people off getting tested.
But they say they will look into the issue when community testing resumes in Werrington in the New Year, to see if there is cause for concern.
Werrington councillor Ross Ward raised the issue during a meeting of the health overview and scrutiny panel at Staffordshire Moorlands District Council.
He said: “There was a testing session in Caverswall, and a couple of people have come to me off the back of that and asked me why it is that the testing centres in the hotspots, where they need to be, appear to be available to everyone across the county.
“A significant number of people that live in the village are unable to get a slot in the test centre. One of the parish councillors who was in the queue was talking to a lady who had travelled from Walsall to get the test, which seems particularly odd to me.
“This is just anecdotal, so I can’t give any more information, but that is what has been reported to me.”
The community testing is intended for asymptomatic people in the hotspot areas. The idea is that the local infection rate can be reduced by identifying asymptomatic cases through screening as many people as possible.
Johnny McMahon, cabinet member for health, care and well-being at the county council, told the meeting that asking people for identification could have adverse effects.
Want a free daily bulletin which includes all the latest Covid-19 news – plus breaking news alerts direct to your inbox? Then sign up to our email newsletter service by clicking here.
Want to know more before you sign up? Click here.
Decide later that you no longer wish to receive the emails? No problem – you can just follow the unsubscribe link.
He said: “This is a difficult issue. It is only anecdotal at the moment, so we don’t know if it’s happening at scale. And the prospect of getting people to provide proof of address before getting tested might discourage people from getting a test who are exactly the people who we want to get a test. These may be people without a driving licence, without a bank account.
“I’m minded to wait and see whether this is happening at scale after Christmas, because it might just be a pre-Christmas phenomenon. People might be inappropriately using the test so they can visit family.
“I’m inclined to wait and see if there is any evidence in the New Year that this is happening at scale. If it is, we may need have to go down an address and identity road, which would be unfortunate. I’m very keen that we don’t do that.”
Mark Deaville, deputy leader at the district council, said he was aware of an issue at Caverswall and planned to raise it at the local outbreak control board.
Dr Richard Harling, director of health and care at the county council, added: “The intention is that this asymptomatic community testing is for people in the hotspots. We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible, so without verification of identity.
“If I think it’s being abused at scale then we may have to reconsider that. So we’ll keep an eye on it in the New Year and see how we get on.”
StokeonTrentLive has created a dedicated group on Facebook for COVID 19 (coronavirus) updates. Join for sensible, accurate and informed updates – click here.
The Blythe Bridge, Forsbrook & Caverswall area currently has a seven-day infection rate of 276.8 cases per 100,000, while in Werrington & Wetley Rocks it is 229.2. The Staffordshire Moorlands as a whole has a seven-day rate of 255.
The next community testing session for Werrington and Cellarhead residents, intended for people without coronavirus symptoms in the hotspot area, will be held at Werrington Village Hall on December 29. There will also be sessions there on January 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10.
To book a test, visit https://staffordshire.zipporah.co.uk/TrackAndTrace.