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    EAS spent up to £250,000 employing staff to keep up with unprecedented demand

    Daisy Aitchison reports on the challenges faced by the University's Early Alert Service.

    Oxford University’s Early Alert Service spent between £200,000 and £250,000 employing external staff because existing employees were unable to keep up with demand in Michaelmas Term.

    Both Thornbury Nursing Services and NHS Professionals provided staff for the service as it came under pressure at the start of Michaelmas Term 2020. A total of thirteen staff from Thornbury were employed, with NHS Professionals providing an additional eleven.

    In response, the University said that the Early Alert Service was sufficiently prepared to meet the demand for tests in Michaelmas Term and was ready to respond were a similar surge in cases to happen again, with resources “available and ready to deploy at short notice”.

    Regarding the cost of employing the external staff, the Early Alert Service said: “A number of avenues were explored for staffing the testing pods in Michaelmas Term and indeed we are hugely grateful for the input from just over 50 medical students who trained and covered some shifts.  Nursing staff were in extreme demand last year due to the demands of COVID on both clinical service and clinical research infrastructure so the University had to use agency staff to ensure our University could remain operating and students, staff and the local community could remain safe from Covid. 

    “Highly responsible student practice around Covid meant that over half of Oxford Colleges had no active cases by the end of Michaelmas term and that we detected no evidence of student to staff or student to community transmission.”

    Earlier in the year Cherwell revealed that the university’s Early Alert Service had failed to call all students who had tested positive for coronavirus because of a shortage of staff. There were also concerns that students were not given adequate medical advice and were instead relying on individuals without healthcare training.

    At the time the Early Alert Service said they believed that the system was “excellent” and that “colleges and departments have indicated that they have found, and continue to find, the speed of testing and the support offered by the Result Liaison Team to be invaluable”.

    The Early Alert Service came under pressure in October of 2020 owing to an increased demand for coronavirus tests. Minutes from the University’s COVID-19 bronze planning group state that “as of 17 October, due to an increase in positive cases, EAS Results Liaison Team (RLT) did not have capacity to make phone calls to the individual students testing positive. Emails notifying the index case and the SPOCs continue, but the RLT does not phone the index case unless they receive an email request from the SPOC.

    “Colleges were concerned that SPOCs, who are not medical professionals, were having to advise students. The Group noted that the issue was being reviewed (as were the wider issues of EAS capacity).”

    Later in the month the same group noted that “the service has staffing challenges in a number of areas, currently having a reliance on external temporary agencies to supply nursing staff. A range of options are being considered for the service and requirements for recruitment are being developed.

    “It was noted that the role of the Results Liaison Team (RLT) needed further clarification, in terms of what the University required from the team.

    “The testing service has been successful and the increased demand for the service has placed strain on resources. Work was ongoing to identify the right candidates to resource the service.”

    In Trinity Term the university’s testing service has been expanded to include twice weekly asymptomatic testing for students who wish to book a slot. The tests are available at University Club on Mansfield Road, St Luke’s Chapel in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter and the Richard Doll Building on the Old Road Campus.

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