Locations for new East Sussex Covid testing centres being considered

Plumpton Racecourse and the Glyndebourne opera house are being considered as potential regional testing centres, councillors have heard. 

Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 5:18 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 5:35 pm
Some of the car parks at Glyndebourne opera house might be suitable to house a Covid drive-in testing centre
Some of the car parks at Glyndebourne opera house might be suitable to house a Covid drive-in testing centre

The topic was raised at a meeting of the East Sussex Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) last Thursday (September 10), as part of a wider discussion on the impact of the local impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

During the meeting, director of public health for East Sussex Darrell Gale told councillors that outside areas at Plumpton Racecourse and Glyndebourne opera house were being considered as potential replacements for previous regional testing centre at the Amex Stadium.

Mr Gale said: “There is a new regional testing site serving the West Sussex area at Tangmere Airport, but obviously that is not suitable for people in East Sussex.

“For the regional testing site we are working in conjunction with Brighton and Hove [City Council]. 

“We’ve identified that some of the car parks at Glyndebourne opera house might be suitable and also that some of the hard-standing at Plumpton Racecourse might be suitable.

“These [would be] drive-through and we still obviously still have the existing regional testing site at Gatwick Airport, which can serve some of our population but not all. It is not an easy journey.”

Mr Gale also discussed the wider plans for testing centres in the county – with both smaller local centres and short-term mobile testing sites also being looked at.

He said: “We’ve been offered a number of new options for the future around testing sites. That is about increasing the front door. We can’t, obviously, increase the front door without having the lab capacity. 

“I did receive some assurance from the DHSC – the test and trace people – earlier this week, that there is progress there on increasing the lab capacity [but] we are still talking four or five weeks away. This is a national programme and out of our control locally.

“But what is within my control as a director of public health is to identify sites for mobile testing units, which are those that step up for a few days and then disappear. In an outbreak scenario, you would want to step those up incredibly quickly. 

“Secondly we have local testing sites, which are due to be walk-in sites rather than drive-in sites, and we are expected to have some of those in the county.”

Mr Gale said these local centres included one in Bexhill, adjacent to the existing drive-through testing centre at the Wainwright Road car park.

It would replace the current testing centre, but be likely to offer both walk-in and drive-thorough tests.

In Eastbourne, authorities are looking at a local testing centre at the Devonshire Park Car Park, which has been used as a mobile testing centre on several occasions. The intention would be to have both drive-through and walk-in testing, Mr Gale said.

Mr Gale said the council is also currently in talks with the Department for Education, with the hope of using the vacant St Helenswood School annex as a testing centre for Hastings. 

He added that these would be supplemented by visiting mobile testing units – both in the towns and the surrounding areas – in light of any potential accessibility issues.

The council was also looking at potential testing sites in Wealden and Lewes as well.

Mr Gale said: “I can give the committee the assurance that we are looking at sites in Wealden, Lewes and Rother as well, mobile testing sites, to recognise that we need to get into smaller places as well.

“Partly to pick up any need locally but also partly to provide some reassurance that we are thinking of those communities as well as our towns.”

Mr Gale also acknowledged that there had been tensions at previous testing sites.

He said:“We know that the sites we have used in the past in Hastings haven’t been acceptable or available for use. The first site at The Stade came with no advanced warning for businesses adjacent and the manner in which it was set up really hacked-off local businesses.

“That is not something we would want to see, however I would state that in an emergency outbreak scenario, if that was the only site available we would want to use it again.

“In any outbreak scenario we would have to be very quick to identify sites and move on and establish the testing there.”

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