Hancock confirms new prioritisation list for Covid-19 tests

Grant Boone
September 16, 2020

The Health Secretary acknowledged that there were "operational challenges" in the testing system as he was summoned to answer an urgent question on the situation in the Commons.

Mr Hancock said an updated prioritisation list would set out who will be at the front of the queue.

"Throughout this pandemic, we have prioritised testing according to need".

"Over the summer, when demand was low, we were able to meet all requirements for testing whether priorities or not".

"The problem is that NHS trusts are working in the dark - they don't know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests".

He said throughout the pandemic they had prioritised testing according to need.

The next priority is social care, where we're now sending over 100,000 tests a day because we've all seen the risks this virus poses in care homes.

Mr Hancock defended the Government's approach following questions from his Labour counterpart Jon Ashworth, telling MPs: "We'll deliver on the challenges today, I don't deny those challenges, but what I do is face the facts to deliver on those challenges rather than simply complaining".

But alongside the faltering testing regime, the tracing system is still failing to reach the required number of people to work effectively.

LBC radio on Monday said no coronavirus tests were available in those areas.

Mr Hancock responded: "I think that we will be able to solve this problem in a matter of weeks".

He faced a barrage of complaints in the Commons about people being forced to travel long distances or even enter false addresses in the hope of securing a test.

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He told the Commons: "Everyone in this House knows that we're doing more testing per head of population than nearly any other major nation, and I can update the House that we have now carried out over 20 million tests for coronavirus in this country". We need to prioritise tests for healthcare workers and their families and patients coming in for treatment, many of whom have already waited longer than normal.

But he acknowledged the virus was spreading, both in the United Kingdom and around the world.

The Government said that as of 9am on Tuesday, there had been a further 3,105 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

"The government is now shooting for the moon promising to deliver mass continuous testing with a test that doesn't yet exist at a cost almost as much as the total NHS budget", he said.

"Our capacity continues to be targeted to where it is most needed, which is why booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for people with symptoms".

Downing Street revealed testing was discussed at a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday morning.

The government says it has the capacity to process about 243,000 coronavirus tests a day, up from 220,000 at the end of August.

She said: "A number of them have also been advised that if they put an Aberdeen postcode into the system, they can get a test in Twickenham and they have succeeded".

"I think what's going wrong is the second wave", Bell told the BBC. "A month ago, they had spare capacity in testing -significant spare capacity - but I think what has been underestimated was the speed at which the second wave would arrive".

"It's not just access for tests for staff members themselves, it's also access for their family members as NHS workers have to self-isolate if their family members are unable to confirm if they have Covid-19 or not".

Patients were also struggling to get tests, compounding delays within the NHS that have worsened since the outbreak began.

Alan McNally, director of the institute of microbiology and infection at the University of Birmingham, told the BBC there were "clearly underlying issues which nobody wants to tell us about", together with an increased need for testing.

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