UPDATE: This article was updated at 5.40pm on 13 May to include a comment from Boots.
High street pharmacist Boots is advertising to recruit an army of hundreds of unpaid volunteers to test people for coronavirus.
An advert on the company’s website said it is looking for 1,000 current staff and volunteers to work at least 32 hours a week as Covid-19 swab testers across the UK.
The advert has sparked criticism with unions saying it took the “notion of volunteering way too far”.
It emerged as coronavirus testing dropped below the government’s key 100,000 a day target, despite hitting it again on Sunday.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma told the daily Downing Street press briefing on Tuesday that 85,293 tests had been carried out on Monday, falling from 100,490 the previous day.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has said the goal is to have a testing capacity of 200,000 a day by the end of the month.
The volunteer Covid-19 tester adverts, posted on Boots’ website, said that more support with testing was required because of the “significant” amount of screening required to combat the virus.
It said it was working with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to set up and staff a number of test stations across the country.
Volunteers should be able to work at least 32 hours a week and full training and NHS-standard protective equipment would be provided, it said.
It added: “Screening is currently taking place, however the volumes required to combat the virus are significant and it is clear more support is required for testing.
“We have been asked to support the country’s efforts to understand infection rates and help with workforce demands to allow the NHS to continue caring for patients.
“We are seeking to recruit up to 1,000 Boots colleagues and volunteers to work as part of a team of test operatives nationally undertaking Covid-19 swab testing in locations across the UK.
“These colleagues will work alongside both Boots teams and other partners in the project in groups currently of up to five in designated locations with each site have a designated site manager.”
But Unison said that, unless Boots was offering its services for free to the government, it should not expect volunteers to do so as well.
Its head of health Sara Gorton said: “Many people want to give their spare time to the NHS to help it through the Covid crisis, but this ad takes the notion of volunteering way too far.
“Unless Boots is offering its services to the government for free, it’s difficult to understand why it’s expecting anyone to do such important work for zero pence.
“Having a comprehensive test, track and trace programme in place is crucial if we are to beat the virus.
“So rather than work with private companies seeking to take advantage of people’s good nature, the government would be better placed utilising the experience of NHS staff returning from retirement, or the healthcare students in their final years, to help expand the UK’s testing capacity.”
The advert said that applicants must be under 70, in general good health, not classified in any of the coronavirus high-risk groups and have no long-term conditions.
They must also be willing to work outside and mobile enough to reach into vehicles to take swab tests from the nose and throat at “potentially awkward angles”, it added.
Volunteers are also warned to consider the risk to their family members in their household.
A spokesperson for Boots told The Canary:
Boots stepped forward to support COVID-19 testing for front line workers at the request of the government and we are proud to play our part in helping the NHS and other front line workers return to work. During this phase of the crisis, this has not been in any way a commercial activity, and Boots has not sought to make any profit, only to support the NHS and the country as we have done for over 170 years.
Our role in the UK testing programme, run by the Department of Health and Social Care, is to provide and train testers for some of the UK drive through testing sites. Many Boots employees have come forward to take part and train as testers. We have also agreed to help with the recruitment of additional volunteers where required. We have been really pleased with the response to our request with hundreds of people stepping forward to volunteer to do this vital work.
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