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BLOG: Testing delays and what they might mean for your business

As a childcare provider, are you struggling to access Covid-19 tests for you or your family? Are parents at your setting suffering from extended exclusion periods due to the delays? 

Last week, it was reported that there are significant delays to the government’s Coronavirus testing programme. Social media groups across the country are being increasingly filled with ‘horror stories’ that paint a picture of a system struggling under national demand. Frequent comments include walk-in testing sites turning people away, families having to travel hundreds of miles for the closest available test centre, delays with home test kits being delivered, and online users spending endless hours pressing refresh in order to secure an appointment. Combine this with delays to the test results themselves, and you are left with hundreds of frustrated, anxious parents unable to go to work, or leave their home, for much longer than anyone would like. 

And the effect of these delays is much more than just an extended period of nerves while you await your test results; they have had a direct impact on childcare settings being able to ensure they have enough staff, are able to allow individual children in to the setting, or in some cases keep their doors open at all.

PACEY recognises this is an ongoing issue, and is doing all we can to highlight these problems to government through our ongoing updates with the Department for Education. We continue to highlight the negative repercussions of the delays, including the financial impact these have on your business. We are exploring all potential avenues of funding, and attempting to answer all the additional queries you have raised with us, such as whether a Doctor’s note is a sufficient alternative to a negative test result. Keep a close eye on our Facebook page and Coronavirus Spotlight, as these are the first places we update when we receive clarity on all aspects of the pandemic.

While we all await further updates on how the government plans to handle the longer term testing strategy, there are a number of actions you can take immediately to reduce the impact of testing delays to your business.

Access priority testing

As a key worker in England, you and members of your family should be able to access priority testing via the government’s employer referral scheme for essential workers. This portal enables you to register for a unique invitation code to book a test for either yourself, or a household member(s) at a regional testing site. Find out how to apply.

Get financial support

If you employ staff, they are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for every day they are in isolation, as long as they meet the eligibility conditions and you may be able to reclaim this via one of the government’s coronavirus support schemes. Check the gov.uk website to see whether you are eligible, and what information you need to claim back the payments.

Details of a new government business grant were announced earlier this month, which aims to provide a safety net to further protect jobs where a business is required to temporarily close due to Covid-19. We are currently seeking confirmation as to who qualifies and whether this applies only during a local lockdown, or will be available to individual businesses being told to close at any point during the pandemic.

For further information on the range of Coronavirus financial support available from the government, access our Spotlight.

Strong parent partnerships

One of the most unfortunate consequences of the ongoing delays is the pressure it places on parents whose children display Coronavirus symptoms, especially as we enter the ‘flu season’. Whilst government guidance is extremely clear who should have a test, and the steps you should follow if a child in your setting displays symptoms, we have heard an increasing number of incidents where parents are frustrated at having to keep their child at home for extended periods of time whilst they await a test result – especially if they believe the symptoms are caused by something other than Coronavirus.

Strong parent partnerships are the backbone of any childcare business, and situations like this, where tensions are escalated, can quickly erode the relationship you have worked so hard to build with the families you support. Open lines of communication are essential during this time, and we recommend talking to your families about the importance of;

  • Recognising coronavirus symptoms
  • Understanding the importance of testing, to protect everyone in the setting, as well as the wider community
  • The financial impact their extended exclusion from the setting might have

When a child has to be excluded from a setting, the parent will still be required to continue paying fees, if this was agreed in your contract. Check your contract wording carefully, and remember that as a PACEY member you have access to the legal helpline should you need it.

In the situation where your setting must close, the parent could expect a refund for childcare services not delivered, especially if the closure is for the full 14 days. Where you can, agree a mutually acceptable way forward for those two weeks. It may be you defer the lost days so they can be used later; or you could explore setting up a partnership with another setting so - if you are forced to close - you can offer alternative care; or default to a retainer fee for the duration of the closure.

As with all conversations regarding unexpected payments, or reduction of services, we encourage you to maintain ongoing dialogue with parents, and remain fair and reasonable with your requests.

If you have been unable to access a Covid-19 test easily, or have experienced issues with parents/carers due to testing delays, please share your experiences with us. You can email us on media@pacey.org.uk or message us through our Facebook page.

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