Postmen and postwomen – collecting Britain’s test kits

Postal, Royal Mail Group (EMP)

As Covid-19 testing is ramped up by the NHS, our frontline Royal Mail members are stepping up collections of home testing kits, with the activity now ranging across most regions of Britain on every day of the week.

After successfully piloting the campaign in Truro, Cornwall, test collections were rolled out to 162 delivery offices around the country from mid-May and then this was expanded last week to a further 248 units. Subject to ongoing demand, another 130 units will join the project later this month.

According to the procedures and protocols agreed between Royal Mail and the CWU, customers wanting test kits collected have until 4.30pm to place their order via a dedicated online portal – guaranteeing next-day pick up.

The bookings are then sent to area project leads that evening and organised into delivery manifests for each participating delivery office by 7am the next morning. Postmen and women who have volunteered for test collection duty head out at 8am and return to the D.O. by noon with the sealed test kits, which are then bagged and sent onto the specified mail centre for their area.

CWU assistant secretary Mark Baulch says: “We’re glad to be participating fully in this extremely important national campaign to ramp up testing across the population.

“The only sad thing is that if only the Government had called on us right at the start, back in March, then perhaps we as a country might have been further down to road to recovery now.

“But we are where we are and once we got the green light from government, this union and, to be fair, the Royal Mail management as well, have worked swiftly – particularly with the pilot in Truro, which PEC member Tony Bouch oversaw and worked hard with the local reps in order to get the correct procedures in place to get this campaign launched wider.

“And our frontline reps and members have responded fantastically to this initiative.”

Chris Sheldon, Derbyshire Branch ADR, says: “We started on May 18th at Derby and within this branch area we also have Alfreton, Burton-on-Trent, Matlock, Swadlincote and Ashbourne on this campaign – and each of them also collects from other specified post code areas as well.

“So far, it’s gone very well – no failures – and we’ve had no problem getting volunteers.”

Volumes have been variable, Chris reports, explaining that test collections per unit per day have ranged from around a dozen to over twice that amount and that it is difficult to trace a particular trend – but even at the lower end, it’s still quite a few individual calls for one person to make all over a town, covering several post code areas.

Extra vans have been hired specifically for the collections, as well as dedicated PDAs – and as regards the normal work of these units, this has been unaffected, although just as busy as it has been during throughout this virus period.

“All in all, this has been completely successful so far and we hope it’s contributing to making a big difference to the national effort to get as many people tested as possible in order for our country to move past this crisis,” Chris concludes.

Over in South West Wales, Adrian Rees the sub-area delivery rep, also has positive reports on the campaign, which is operating out of the Swansea, Llanelli, Carmarthen, Port Talbot, Fishguard and Cardigan offices and also, as in Derbyshire, covering neighbouring areas too.

“We’re operating two runs per day and each unit has at least one dedicated test collections worker and usually another one on standby,” says Adrian.

Across the area, about eight to 10 per unit per day is the broad average – with the biggest units reporting the highest volumes.

“It’s gone well here,” he continues,  – “only issues we’ve had have been one or two instances where the person asking for a collection either wasn’t home at the appointed time-slot or had given incorrect details when booking.

“And our normal volumes are still high – at Haverford West, they’re even putting up a temporary marquee because they’re running out of space!”

Divisional rep Tam Dewar covers the West of Scotland part of the Scotland & Northern Ireland Division and the largest participating unit within his ‘patch’ is of course the huge Glasgow SEDO, which houses several delivery offices.

“As well as Glasgow, the West of Scotland also has offices taking part in the home test collections in Paisley, Motherwell and Kilmarnock, plus another six up in the Highlands & Islands,” Tam reports.

“When we started on May 18th, we were averaging about 100 collections per day across the area – but it’s more than doubled to over 200 per day.

“And apart from the Highlands & Islands, the other units are doing this seven days a week – so that’s quite a high number of home tests being collected.

“So, it’s a good campaign so far – people are happy to volunteer. We’ve worked well with the business and it’s being covered with a mixture of overtime and SA.

“It’s also given us the opportunity to temporarily bring some of our part-time members up to full-time hours, which is also a good thing.”

As one of the largest delivery units in the country, it’s no surprise that Cambridge MPU collected test kits from 30 households today, according to area delivery rep for Eastern No4 Branch Paul Sparks.

“This is now about the daily average from here,” says Paul, “and we have two volunteer collectors as well as one reserve.

“The other participating offices within the ‘CB’ area – Ely and Saffron Walden – send their collected test kits to Cambridge and from her they go for onward dispatch to Peterborough Mail Centre,” he explains.

“It’s all going well. We all know this is important work – but for us, this is what we do.”

Saffron Walden unit rep Laura Snell has volunteered for the collection duty and she collected tests from 14 addresses yesterday, and she points out that the number of test kits was almost double that number, as more than one person in each household is testing.

“I wanted to do this because I wanted to help and this is all part of getting our country recovered from this horrible crisis,” she explains.

Mark Baulch praises the work of our frontline reps and members around the UK, saying: “Once again, postmen and women step up to the challenge when our country needs them – and they’re doing a great job getting these tests collected and moved on.

 “This is making and will make a big and positive difference to the health of our nation and we now want to see this rolled out to the remaining areas of the UK.”