Jottings: From DO to Covid-19 tester

John Hardman FBDO (R)

John Hardman: one of many volunteers helping at Covid-19 testing centres

John Hardman was only one week in to a new role when his practice went into lockdown. Thirteen days later he was training to become a Covid-19 tester…

When speaking with colleagues and peers – particularly within the ABDO exams team where some have double my years in experience – we rarely come across a scenario that one or more of us has not faced in the past. However, we can say with some certainty that no-one has experience of our present situation.

When I joined the Boots Opticians team in Warrington on Monday 16 March, one of my first tasks was to help close the practice, which we did on the evening of Tuesday 24 March. Not exactly what I was expecting in my new role. Everything happened at pace.

I am married with three teenage sons. My wife was able to continue working from home whilst the boys all finished school/college on 20 March. We immediately faced a double concern with one son due to sit his GCSEs and another his A Levels this summer. This situation coincided with the closure of our practice, so I was initially grateful for a few days off as there was considerable anxiety at home.

With the majority of practices closed, apart from a small number of ‘hub’ practices that remained open to provide essential eyecare for patients, I was keen to continue to work and support where I could. So I, and some of my colleagues, stepped forwards to offer our support to the Boots pharmacy team in Warrington or the local distribution centre, as they were all under increasing pressure.

On 30 March, I was contacted by my line manager regarding the need for colleagues with clinical experience to help run a drive-through Covid-19 test centre due to open at Manchester Airport. This was to be one of the first of many facilities being set up around the UK to test NHS and frontline key workers who were self-isolating having had coronavirus symptoms.

I have a number of friends and family members working for the NHS in various capacities and was hearing first-hand of the pressure and stress they were under, along with the risks they were being exposed to on the frontline – both to themselves and their families. I had no hesitation in taking up such an incredible opportunity to support in any way I could. As a dispensing optician, my instinct for ‘duty of care’ was triggered.

Ready to receive frontline workers

Army of volunteers

On Thursday 2 April, our team of volunteers were trained in hand-washing, personal hygiene and the use of personal protection equipment (PPE). Once fully compliant, we were then taught how to complete swab-tests of both the throat and nostril, practising on each other. We then opened the site to NHS staff who were self-isolating, completing swab tests under supervision until fully signed off as competent.

We have strict standard operating procedures to adhere to at all times, to protect the testing team and reduce the risk of cross-contamination whilst ensuring tests are completed in the correct manner.

Each facility operates with a number of teams, from site management to security, procurement, data control and cleaners, etc. Initially, most of the testers came from Boots Opticians, with additional colleagues from across Boots UK. Our experience of dealing with patients is invaluable.

There are five testing bays, each staffed by two colleagues. Each car may contain one or multiple patients. One colleague conducts the test via an opened car window with the second colleague undertaking the role of test support, remaining inside the test hut to package the swab kit. These are collected daily and sent for testing, with the results sent directly to the patient. Colleagues change into new PPE kit between every individual test.

I transferred to another facility opening at Haydock Racecourse on 9 April, taking my learnings from Manchester. Here I have the role of a team leader, supervising a group of testers and working with all the site teams to help with the day-to-day operation.

We have two Boots teams of six testers at present, working alternate four days on, four days off. The Army provides additional support, with more testers to facilitate the ability to operate all five bays during opening hours, currently from 8am until 6pm. I arrive on site at 7.15am for a briefing with all team leads to prepare for the day ahead, reviewing appointments booked and other jobs. The testing team work eight hour shifts from 7.30am to 3.30pm, or 10.15am to 6.15pm.

Team spirit ‘beyond words’

I feel privileged to have this opportunity to help during such unprecedented times. Yes, I may be exhausted at the end of the day but I have never felt so motivated at work. Everyone on site is amazing, the team spirit among so many individuals brought together in such a short period of time from diverse backgrounds is in itself beyond words.

We have a ‘can do’ attitude, finding immediate solutions for every challenge and jumping over each hurdle – well, we are at Haydock Racecourse after all – to complete the task at hand and do what we can to help save lives.

Due to the significant increase in demand for testing our sites need additional support so I would encourage anyone reading this, who is in a position to undertake volunteering in some way, to seek out opportunities to do so. We are opening more and more testing sites throughout the UK and looking for more volunteers, not just Boots employees.

In fact, my 18-year old son Luke has just volunteered to join my team as a Covid-19 tester. We are so proud of him.

View existing vacancies on the Boots website here

John Hardman FBDO (R) is a dispensing optician at Warrington Boots Opticians and an ABDO practical examiner.