Boots recruiting army of unpaid volunteers to carry out coronavirus tests

13 May 2020, 08:33

A test sample is taken at a Covid-19 testing centre at Glasgow Airport, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus
A test sample is taken at a Covid-19 testing centre at Glasgow Airport, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Picture: PA

By Megan White

High street pharmacist Boots is advertising to recruit hundreds of unpaid volunteers to test people for coronavirus.

An advert on the company's website said it is looking for 1,000 current staff and volunteers to work at least 32 hours a week as Covid-19 swab testers across the UK.

The adverts said that more support with testing was required because of the "significant" amount of screening required to combat the virus.

But it has sparked criticism with unions saying it took the "notion of volunteering way too far".

It emerged as coronavirus testing dropped below the Government's key 100,000 a day target, despite hitting it again on Sunday.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma told the daily Downing Street press briefing on Tuesday that 85,293 tests had been carried out on Monday, falling from 100,490 the previous day.

Boots are recruiting hundreds of testers across the country
Boots are recruiting hundreds of testers across the country. Picture: Boots

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the goal is to have a testing capacity of 200,000 a day by the end of the month.

Boots said it was working with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to set up and staff a number of test stations across the country.

Volunteers should be able to work at least 32 hours a week and full training and NHS-standard protective equipment would be provided, it said.

It added: "Screening is currently taking place, however the volumes required to combat the virus are significant and it is clear more support is required for testing.

"We have been asked to support the country's efforts to understand infection rates and help with workforce demands to allow the NHS to continue caring for patients.

"We are seeking to recruit up to 1,000 Boots colleagues and volunteers to work as part of a team of test operatives nationally undertaking Covid-19 swab testing in locations across the UK.

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"These colleagues will work alongside both Boots teams and other partners in the project in groups currently of up to five in designated locations with each site have a designated site manager."

But Unison said that, unless Boots was offering its services for free to the Government, it should not expect volunteers to do so as well.

Its head of health Sara Gorton said: "Many people want to give their spare time to the NHS to help it through the Covid crisis, but this ad takes the notion of volunteering way too far.

"Unless Boots is offering its services to the Government for free, it's difficult to understand why it's expecting anyone to do such important work for zero pence.

"Having a comprehensive test, track and trace programme in place is crucial if we are to beat the virus.

"So rather than work with private companies seeking to take advantage of people's good nature, the Government would be better placed utilising the experience of NHS staff returning from retirement, or the healthcare students in their final years, to help expand the UK's testing capacity."

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The advert said that applicants must be under 70, in general good health, not classified in any of the coronavirus high-risk groups and have no long-term conditions.

They must also be willing to work outside and mobile enough to reach into vehicles to take swab tests from the nose and throat at "potentially awkward angles", it added.

Volunteers are also warned to consider the risk to their family members in their household.

A DHSC spokesperson said: "The speed at which we have increased our testing capacity is unprecedented and a real success made possible by fantastic teamwork between the Government, key private companies and amazing volunteers.

"Meeting the 100,000 target was a fantastic achievement but it isn't the end of the goal, it's just the beginning.

"We will continue to expand our testing capacity, with thousands more tests becoming available every day.

"This will be done with more test centres opening, more mobile testing units, and rapidly increasing the numbers of home testing kits becoming available."

Boots has been approached for comment.