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NHS testing contractor ‘breached several health and safety rules’

NHS Covid-19 testing contractor The Doctors Laboratory (TDL) breached several health and safety regulations, the government’s watchdog has found after the company was accused of sacking whistleblowers.

TDL is one of the key providers of tests and courier services for the NHS, including by transporting Covid-19 samples from the Nightingale hospital in London to laboratories. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said TDL had put its courier fleet at a heightened risk of contamination because transport containers had not been sufficiently washed and couriers were not informed on the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The findings follow the launch of legal proceedings by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) against TDL on the grounds of victimisation and dismissal of trade union activists and whistleblowers who raised health and safety concerns. 

IWGB reps had initially raised concerns about TDL’s practises in March and, shortly after, some of the workers who spoke out were made redundant in a “clear act” of whistleblower victimisation, the union said. 

TDL said it had “consistently and categorically denied” that anybody was fired for whistleblowing activity.

“Subsequent to the redundancies, the IWGB applied to the Employment Tribunal for interim relief orders on the grounds the redundancies were due to trade union activities. The application failed,” it pointed out.

Former cycle courier for TDL and IWGB couriers and logistics branch chairman Alex Marshall called the report “extremely concerning.”

He said: “It proves that TDL, a private company which stands to make a fortune from the pandemic and is being offered millions of pounds to safeguard public health, can’t even ensure basic health and safety for its own workers.

“I am relieved that these issues, which TDL sacked me for speaking out about, are finally being brought to light.”

The report also found that TDL’s “courier Covid-19 risk assessment is not suitable and sufficient.”

TDL conducted its risk assessment about two months after Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty raised the risk from coronavirus in Britain from moderate to high in March.

The company has not given a reason why it waited so long to do so.

TDL also did not properly consult couriers or their representatives in the development of its risk assessment, the report said.

In a recent email seen by the IWGB, TDL boss David Byrne announced the company has been contracted by the Department of Health and Social Care to create a new high-volume Covid-19 testing facility which will inform on strategic decisions around travel and local lockdowns.

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