Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, speaking to an urgent question raised in the House today, said Yesterday LBC revealed there were no tests available in COVID hotspots including Rochdale, Pendle and Bradford.
Over the weekend in Bolton where infections are highest in the country a mobile testing centre failed to turn up. Meanwhile in Bury hundreds queued for five hours for a test.
In Walsall a father with his sick child travelled 76 miles to an appointment in Wales only to find on arrival tests had ran out. Increasing numbers of teachers and pupils are not in school. In hospitals, operations are cancelled while NHS staff are stuck in limbo waiting for tests. He blames increased demand.
But when tracing consistently fails to reach 80 per cent of contacts, when less than 20 per cent of those with symptoms self-isolate properly and there is a lack of financial security, Infections rise. And when schools reopen, people return to workplaces and social distancing becomes harder, infections rise. So extra demand on the system was inevitable.
So why didn’t he use the summer to significantly expand NHS lab capacity and fix contact tracing? And demand is increasing just as postgrad students working in the lighthouse labs return to University.
So why did he not plan for these inevitable staff shortages? In these commercial pillar two labs, the Sunday Times revealed a huge backlog of 185,000 tests. Thursday’s weekly data revealed that 65,709 test results were not returned by the end of the week.
Care home residents now wait an average of 83 hours for their result.
The Prime Minister promised us a 24 hour turnaround for results so what is the current backlog and what is the timeframe for clearing it? We were promised a world beating system so why are we sending tests to Germany and Italy for processing? Most importantly people want to know when they will get a test and when this mess will be fixed? Today there will be thousands of ill people trying to book a test only to be told none are available.
So when will people be able to book a test online again? Or has the online booking system been deliberately disabled?
When will ill people no longer have to travel hundreds of miles for a test that should be available on their doorstep? When will pupils and teachers out of school get access to testing so they can get back to school? And when will NHS staff access regular testing so they can focus on their patients not be sat at home? We are at a perilous moment.
Imperial College estimates the virus is doubling every 7-8 days.
We all want to avoid further restrictions or another national lockdown. But when testing breaks down, contact tracing breaks down, and the growth of this virus cannot be tracked. The Prime Minister promised us whack-a-mole but instead his mallet is broken.
The Secretary of State is losing control of this virus. He needs to fix testing now.