By Marta Kalas, Thomson Screening
Adapting ways of working to handle Covid-19 is creating ongoing demands on every business. Currently these are especially challenging for customer facing businesses.
The business needs to re-open but staff, customers and visitors need to be protected. You probably already have a good supply of PPE, plus information about how to control infection and clean areas. You are OK for now, but this is only today, what about next week, next month? How will you know when your risks increase and you need to take different steps? Will you be able to notice a new source of infection in good time? This is where regular and methodical testing can help.
It is important to understand that testing can only help if it is effective, and that means being part of a concerted effort with a systematic plan.
Right now, it is a confusing topic and good advice is hard to find. Until the government offers specific guidelines, you need to use your common sense and do the best you can.
So, what practical action can you take to manage testing effectively in your business?
The best advice is still to ask staff to monitor symptoms and be aware of risks that they may be exposed to. For example, are they part of a large family with most members working? Are they using public transport? An increased risk doesn’t mean they should avoid the office but bear it in mind when developing your testing plan.
There are several issues to consider when setting up a testing programme. It is not simply a medical or clinical question, the personal privacy aspects are just as important.
When designing a testing programme ensure it is:
- Planned and documented
- Systematic (even if you are doing random checks, you need to make it clear who is tested, when and how)
- Actionable: you need to know what specific action you will take if certain results are found
- Follows Public Health England (PHE) guidelines and if possible is carried out under clinical supervision. The latter may not be possible, although many occupational health physicians can provide this as a service.
The testing programme must also avoid these pitfalls:
- Improvising/introducing the latest test available without considering the implications
- Testing must not lead to discrimination or the perception of discrimination
- Once the data is no longer needed it needs to be destroyed and the process documented
- Using tests that are not approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)
- Using a system where security of data cannot be guaranteed (e.g. Excel)
As the testing programme is designed the following questions need to be asked:
What type of information will you be collecting and what action will you follow if you find it? For example: Will it lead to more testing of a specific group? Might shift patterns or workflow etc. need to change?
What other information will you need to record in order to give context to the testing? For example, this could be linked to risk factors like ethnicity or sharing a household with a person who is at higher risk.
What type of test needs to be carried out in relation to any symptoms? If tests need repeating – at what intervals?
How will you manage repeated testing? How long is the information valid?
The timing of these questions and answers as well as the related test result is important; each test is only effective for a very precise period. Testing at the wrong time means results will lose meaning.
It is unfortunately, unlikely that your current recording of HR data is sufficient for this purpose, so a new system of Covid-19 testing is needed.
For example, Thomson Covid-19 Test Manager is a new software platform that manages the testing process, irrespective of where, how and what test is carried out. A dedicated testing platform to manage the process, will make it much easier to track the results, know what actions to take, and ensure that everyone who needs testing is tested.
Communicating with your team
The business needs to be open and transparent about why and how you want to manage the testing, and, if necessary, get some advice/training about sensitive communication with employees at risk.
Before the programme commences you need a communication process to talk to all the whole team. This should cover a) the reporting procedure if a staff member is found to have Covid-19; b) how testing will change or increase if a visitor or supplier reports they have Covid-19; c) what actions will be taken if a test is positive.
Your legal advisers will need be involved to ensure there is no conflict with UK employment law. However, after specific advice on the legal and clinical aspects of health testing and creating clear and transparent procedures you’ll be able to move forward with your programme.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marta Kalas is co-founder of Thomson Screening, developers of the Thomson Covid-19 Test Manager software platform that enables testing providers to scale irrespective of where, how and what test is carried out. Functions include automated reporting at local and national level for bodies including Public Health, Community Health and Employers with data reporting into other systems, as required.
A separate module using questionnaire and risk assessment methodology enables local residents to self-report Covid-19 symptoms with automated reporting to local (or national) Public Health and the ability to automatically push out messaging specific to the individual with symptoms.
Thomson Covid-19 Test Manager is designed to adapt rapidly to fast changing requirements and is fully scalable. The Innovate UK grant enables Thomson Screening to utilise investments made in the core functionality of the company’s products used in the NHS, especially its SchoolScreener Imms product, to rapidly repurpose and deploy the software.