HDA Letter to Lord Bethell on COVID-19 Testing (17 September 2020)

Dear HDA Members,

The HDA’s Executive Director, Martin Sawer, wrote to Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Innovation Lord Bethell, relaying concerns from HDA member companies over the cumulative impact of the increasing delays in the COVID-19 testing regime. Mr Sawer highlighted that the HDA and its members were concerned that if not addressed, this could begin to affect their operational performance and ultimately the certainty that medicines can get to patients as required.

17 September 2020

Dear Minister,

On behalf of the medicines distribution sector, I am writing to express growing concerns from our member companies about the cumulative impact of the increasing delays in the COVID-19 testing regime.  HDA and its members are concerned that if not addressed, this could begin to affect their operational performance and ultimately the certainty that medicines can get to patients, as required. 
 
As you will be aware, our member companies operate over 50 pharmaceutical distribution warehouses across the four countries of the United Kingdom, and as you have kindly acknowledged, their efficiency and business resilience has held up incredibly well in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.  HDA and its members really did appreciate the UK Government’s decision to classify employees in our sector as Key Workers.  This allowed our members’ businesses to operate with much improved levels of staffing and certainty than might otherwise have been the case.  The priority given to Key Workers, both regarding access to schools and the testing regime, was really helpful in allowing management to plan staff rosters and guarantee medicines supplies continued.  To have this certainty now begin to be thrown into doubt, seemingly due to the lack of a testing prioritisation process, is difficult to understand.  We had assumed that all the planning for coping with a potential second wave of COVID would include the type of challenges that we are now experiencing. 
 
HDA is now collecting weekly member company data to quantify the impact on the sector.  So far, the Association has received reports of testing delays for employees at medicines warehouses in Stoke, Chessington, Cardiff, Southampton, Hinckley, Warrington, Gateshead, Norwich and Belfast.  To add insult to injury, some staff in Belfast have been offered testing slots in Scotland for example, and others tests several hours away from their localities.  HDA companies report that these delays in getting colleagues back to work – some waiting at home just for a test for nearly a week – is beginning to have an effect on business operations. 
 
We believe that it must be in the interests of our members’ businesses, patients and the NHS, if we can jointly acknowledge and solve these issues before the situation gets out of hand.  HDA would support testing prioritisation, alongside the clear and public communication of guidance, and would be keen to work with you and your Department to achieve this. I look forward to hearing from you shortly. 
 
Yours sincerely, 
Martin Sawer

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