AN MP has raised concerns about students returning to York later this month while the coronavirus testing system is on its knees. 

Rachael Maskell MP spoke with Michelle Donelan MP, the Universities Minister to highlight significant concerns about the return of students later this month and the delay in having sufficient testing facilities available.

Last month the Charlie Jeffery, the Vice-Chancellor and President at the University of York, said that both universities could “easily absorb all 500 tests that the council had available each day". 

He also raised issues with the accessibility of getting tests to students, adding that “the university needs the results from tests within 24 hours" and its own testing centre. 

And in meeting with the Minister, the MP for York Central raised the deep concern that the hoped-for testing facilities could take two months to be in place, an issue she also raised with the Health Secretary yesterday.

She put forward suggestions to urge for there to be a deployment of a mobile testing facility until a more permanent walk-in centre was in place ahead of the term commencing.

Ms Maskell also stressed that this must be available for all residents in York, in the light that regular testing is not currently available.

Ms Maskell further asked the Minister to ensure that all universities had additional mental health support available.

She said: "Students will be facing new pressures this year, as jobs will be far less available than usual making finances harder, students could be isolated and away from home for the first time and feel incredibly lonely, and for others, the challenge of the last six months has also taken its toll."

Ms Maskell also took issue with the commencement of the academic year and the impact that this could have on the city. 

The MP stressed that the city needed to feel safe and the impact of the measures taken must be reviewed to ensure that no one feels at risk.

She said: "I am doing everything I can to ensure that York residents and students are kept safe as we enter this next phase of the pandemic.

"The seriousness by which our colleges and universities have taken biosecurity measures demonstrates that they will leave nothing to chance and recognise that this is a difficult time for residents and students. The key to a safe start to the term is the ability to test and contact trace. I have been working with public health professionals to make this case and have placed fresh ideas before the Minister today.

“Many students will also be ‘shielding’ and will have underlying health conditions. It is important that universities are supported to meet their additional needs as they start this academic year.

“The Minister, in response, said that should there be an outbreak of infection then the Local Resilience Forum will be able to deploy a mobile testing facility, however, this is too little too late.

"I will be relentless in making the case at every opportunity for York residents and incoming students to be able to access testing. I know that with the start of the school year, already there is significant pressure on the system, but the Government have also failed to ensure that there was resilience built into their test and trace capacity." 

"This is unacceptable, not least at a time when Covid-19 infection rates are doubling every week.”

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:“This is a challenging time for us all, and I recognise that some residents in university towns and cities such as York, may feel nervous ahead of the start of the academic term.

“But I want to reassure the people of York that every effort is being made by the Government and universities to ensure that students return to campus as safely and sensibly as possible.

“We have already seen a mammoth effort from universities with a host of protective measures being put in place, such as limiting travel into campus, staggering class times over extended days, and reinforcing hand hygiene, to keep students and local residents as safe as we can during this time.

“But I have been clear that health advice only works if we all follow it and I am urging students, just like the wider public, to do their bit and act responsibly. I have faith in students that they will follow the guidance and by doing so protect their family, friends and local communities, and ensure campuses can remain open.”