During the past couple or so weeks, Penzance & Newlyn RFC’s car park in Alexandra Road has been used as a carefully controlled drive through Covid testing site for NHS staff and key workers and for people who are due to go into hospital for operations, writes Phil Westren.

Important to firstly note is this has been by a booking system only, put in place by Cornwall Ambulance Service Limited (CAS), and secondly it is not a service open to the general public.

Dave Pascoe, a Specialist Paramedic and Director of Operations who works for CAS, has advised that testing by them began in Cornwall on February 28, using a vehicle that was mobile throughout the county. At that time there were just a few people being tested, however, as things progressed, and in line with the rest of the country, drive through sites were looked at as well.

Cornwall Ambulance Service Limited, which is a fairly new company, started around Christmas time and is made up of experienced paramedics who can provide lots of different care avenues within the National Health Service (NHS).

Dave said: “In discussions on various contracts with the NHS, when Covid-19 first raised its head it became a natural progression for us to be asked about our availability to help.

“We have about 33 staff, involving 12 admin members plus clinicians comprising specialist paramedics and nurses who work within the NHS realms.

"I was asked whether we could find a suitable testing site in the Penzance area and, because Truro Rugby Club was already being used as a site, I wondered whether the Pirates could also respond similarly.

"The location is ideal geographically, plus it has good access and egress for vehicles, providing a carefully controlled and safe site.

“Contacting the club’s chairman, Scott Dugdale, I was given an immediate and positive response and we couldn’t have asked for more help from personnel.”

As at May 25, through official bookings made CAS had tested around 1100 people. Besides the testing sites at the Pirates and at Truro Rugby Clubs, there are three others at the Wadebridge Showground, Treliske Hospital Mobility Centre (patient based only) and the Adrenalin Quarry at Liskeard. The previously mentioned car is also still used.

“All tests go to Truro Microbiology at Treliske, where the staff have been magnificent," Dave said. "They have been working around the clock to get the tests completed for everyone who has been swabbed, and the turnaround time is generally between 24 and 36 hours.

"Considering the number of tests taking place, it is an immense task, but one they are dealing with quite admirably.

“Testing can be 9am until 5pm sevens days a week if necessary. At the Pirates we test patients in the morning and then key NHS personnel in the afternoon. This means that the patients and staff are not mixed up, so it is a clean process.”

A keen follower of the Cornish Pirates, and also a Cadgwith Singer, Dave feels that although Covid-19 is very much still here, it is a battle being won.

“Nobody ever thought a pandemic such as experienced would happen – it is the biggest emergency since World War Two - but everybody is pulling together in so many ways and, overall, I think it is going very well here in Cornwall.

“However, it must be reiterated that people must continue to look after themselves and follow guidelines. Covid-19 is still here, so please keep up the social distancing, wash hands regularly, and stay disciplined to win the battle.”

Finally, on leaving the car park there is also a ‘Thank You’ sign for anyone wishing to make a donation to ‘FLEET’.

“FLEET works with Cornwall Ambulance Service and we support them," Dave said. "The charity was started in the early nineties by a paramedic called Norman Trebilcock, who was awarded an MBE for his services.

“From Bodmin, Norman’s initial aim was to provide emergency equipment for frontline ambulance vehicles, which he did for many years. Once that was sorted and different procedures put into place, then the charity went down the line of providing defibrillators, of which there are many throughout the county.

"The donations nowadays received enables them to continue to provide such defibrillators, which helps save lives."