Oxford University’s coronavirus Early Alert System (EAS) was unable to telephone all students who tested positive in Michaelmas term after a spike in demand, recently released meeting minutes reveal. 

Notes from the University’s Bronze planning group on the 19th October show that the service experienced “an increase in positive cases”, which meant that “EAS Results Liaison Team (RLT) did not have capacity to make phone calls to the individual students testing positive”. However, students who tested positive were still contacted by email to inform them of their result. 

The minutes go on to note that “colleges were concerned that SPOCs (single points of contact), who are not medical professionals, were having to advise students” as a result of the lack of staffing capacity. At that time, “the Group noted that the issue was being reviewed.” 

In response to the allegations, the University’s Early Alert System said “there were no unexpected staffing shortages in the EAS Results Liaison Team last term – the issue encountered was an unexpectedly high level of positive test results for a short period at the peak of the infection curve. Students are always notified of test results by automated messages as soon as results come through. 

“Colleges provide the first line of support for students, and colleges are supported by the Results Liaison Team which is staffed by experienced health professionals. This system works well as it combines infection control support from the Results Liaison Team with the on the ground knowledge and support which colleges can give. Students will be contacted and supported by a variety of staff depending on their particular circumstances”. 

Notes from a subsequent meeting of the Bronze group on the 28th October reveal that the service had “a reliance on external temporary agencies to supply nursing staff” to ensure demand for medical professionals was met. The group noted that “a range of options are being considered for the service and requirements for recruitment are being developed”. 

The service has since confirmed that “the University continues to use agency nurses to staff the EAS testing pods, which is a practical solution given the on-going variation in numbers of tests required depending on infection/symptom levels”. 

The EAS also refused to specify who the services had been contracted to, saying that “a number of agencies” were used to fill the staffing shortage and that this was “funded by the central university”. There is currently no information regarding the cost to the university.

Asked about the quality of service during Michaelmas Term, the EAS say they believe 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”.

“Due to the fast changing and unpredictable environment of the Coronavirus pandemic there will inevitably be peaks and troughs in demand for EAS, but the service is prepared to deal with these fluctuations through having a highly committed team, strong university support and growing experience of managing covid cases across the collegiate University”. 

The university’s Early Alert System website currently reads: “remember the University has finite testing capacity, so it is important that we target it where it is most needed. You should only book a test if you have any of the primary symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, persistent cough, loss of taste or smell) or if you have other new symptoms that you suspect may be caused by COVID-19.  

“Please do not book a test unless you have symptoms or have been instructed to do so by public health authorities.” 

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