How Big Businesses benefit by bearing the extra cost of acquiring COVID-19 Testing Kits outside of the Government scheme

You may have seen our previous article where we discuss certain issues with the Governments’ free COVID-19 Testing Kits for businesses with more than 50 people.  

Namely that they cause an administrative nightmare which is simply far too unpalatable for most businesses to stomach. Unfortunately they demand a hugely ineffective testing process.  The root cause is that the government kits contain 25 swabs and only one buffer solution.  What that means to us normal folk is that tests have to performed back-to-back.  Which takes far too much time.

Because there’s not an individual buffer solution for each test swab, they can’t be given out and taken simultaneously in one 15-minute period by multiple colleagues.  Now imagine how much time and how many test administrators you’d need to test 1000+ people.  The numbers aren’t small or attractive.

In order for large enterprises to keep their customers and colleagues safe, they’re left in a position where they have no choice but to damage productivity and staff moral with free testing kits or opt for a more efficient testing process representing a substantial investment that would never really provide a tangible or measurable return.

This week I came across an instance that fascinated me.  

I was speaking with an Automotive business with thousands of employees.  To provide 3 months of testing for colleagues working on site would have been in excess of £100k.  

When I asked for feedback on the large number I’d just given, the client pointed out that out of thousands of employees there were only a handful of current isolation cases in the whole business.

I reflected on what I thought was a really good point:

How does a business justify the costs of testing when they run into thousands?

I went away and spoke to some of our largest customers to try and gain some perspective and understand how they had justified the costs, or what exactly it was that compelled them to go ahead with baring the costs themselves.

What I found out is quite interesting and if you don’t read any further, in short, businesses who take on the cost of testing their colleagues are essentially paying premiums on an insurance policy.

When I asked for feedback, a client who tests 850 colleagues twice per week e-mailed me back with this:

I had to close Dunton in December which was a real low. As a result I found a lateral flow test kit supplier and I now test the whole business every 7 days, in 2 weeks we have caught 14 cases that went on to then have a confirmed NHS test, all were asymptomatic when they arrived in the car park to do the test, there has only been 7 other cases reported outside of testing, we are pretty sure that there has been no in work transmission at all since we started testing, we have 1350 employees and about 850 on site currently so I’m judging it as a success. 

The other thing that has been really good is the staff reaction, they are all grateful for the testing programme and it seems to be giving them real comfort, allowing them to get on with their job and without wishing to boast, we have had an unbelievable run since reopening, we are matching order take last year thus far, which I really did not expect, the two things may not be connected at all, but the attitude of our team is really positive currently which can only help.

Firstly, there’s a good point here. 

The metric we need to look at as businesses is not the number of confirmed isolation cases.  What we should really be watching closely is the number of asymptomatic colleagues we have posing a risk to co-workers and customer in the workplace.

Secondly, the real sense of reassurance and being genuinely valued for hundreds or thousands of employees in a time of crisis is priceless.  A motivated workplace is good for business and even better for employer branding and corporate social responsibility.  

And it’s nice to hear about businesses doing well in times of adversity.

I also noticed this week that several high-profile businesses are popping up in the media

And unfortunately, it’s not great reading.  The stories are about outbreaks and the measures that they did or didn’t have in place.  Have you seen the DVLA and Lloyds Call Centre stories?   

Covid: DVLA worker death sparks calls for investigation – BBC News

‘Major outbreak’ fears at Lloyds call centre in Newport as staff describe lack of Covid safety procedures | Wales | ITV News

In summary

From the conversations I’ve had with some pretty major companies, I can tell you this one thing for sure.  

Having an efficient testing process is a bit like backing up your company’s data. 

It’s not something we like paying for but we don’t dare risk not having a backup in place.  It’s an insurance policy.  One we hope we’ll never need.

In this case, providing testing for employees is an insurance policy that protects several of every companies’ most critical business assets:

Employees – health, welfare and moral.

Customers’  – welfare and safety

Reputation – if an undetected outbreak strikes

Productivity capability – if you have to reduce team numbers or shut sites or departments

Bottom line – when any of the above assets are affected.

Most corporate organisations are what could be described as risk-averse.  

That’s why so many companies are simply not prepared to suffer the impact on staff and productivity associated with the using the governments free testing scheme and continue to acquire their own.

Here’s why businesses should take action NOW

March 8th sees the kids in England back at school.  That represents a potentially huge risk for transmission ratesfor any business that employs parents that are not being regularly tested and could be asymptomatic, posing an unknown risk to everyone else they work with.

Ultimately, we don’t know what’s ahead.  What we do know is it’s worth being covered for it whatever it costs.

Pete Stuckey