Councillor Daniel Morgan-Thomas (Wanstead Village, Labour) looks at how the pandemic has impacted blood testing facilities for Wanstead residents, and is pleased to see phlebotomy services slowly improving
Among the turmoil caused by COVID-19 this year, many Wanstead residents will have noticed the walk-in blood testing service at the Heronwood and Galleon unit off Hermon Hill (the last remnant of the old Wanstead Hospital site) shut its doors during the pandemic.
As a Wanstead Village councillor and member of the Redbridge Health Scrutiny Committee, I tried with others on the council to establish what alternatives were available while it was closed, but the answers weren’t satisfactory. Some local residents were told to go as far as Loughton, to a clinic where queues stretched around the block; others were sent to the Langthorne Clinic in Leyton, though this service was not commissioned by Redbridge Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), so they risked being turned away when they arrived.
In fact, neither of those services were the nearest walk-in option: phlebotomy provided at Whipps Cross Hospital (who are actually responsible for running the Wanstead unit) would have been more accessible, but understandably, many people may have been reluctant to visit an acute hospital at the height of the pandemic, and it is certainly not as accessible for our community as a short trip on foot to Hermon Hill.
It wasn’t clear for how long the local service would be closed over the summer or why such a popular service had been deemed fit to close at all – Barts Health, who provide the service, said the site was requested for use by the CCG for pandemic response purposes. In any case, it was a relief when the service at Heronwood and Galleon reopened on 21 September, and it has, by all accounts, been working well as a walk-in service, open from Monday to Friday from 8am to 1pm.
Unfortunately, the wider picture for phlebotomy provision across the borough remains less positive. In October, a serious incident was declared for phlebotomy across Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge (BHR) CCG – waiting times for non-urgent blood tests in parts of the tri-borough area had reached as high as 16 weeks. Since this low-point, the CCG has increased resources available for blood testing, including an additional centre at South Woodford Health Centre and supporting GP services to deliver blood tests; waiting times are now slowly coming down.
On the Health Scrutiny Committee, we have been particularly keen to ensure the CCG share their messages with the community more widely so people know how the situation with blood testing in the borough is progressing, and what the best ways of finding a blood test near you are. The CCG website is updated weekly, so you can check for details of testing sites and how to book. We’ll keep asking for updates and pushing for the best possible service for patients too!