Hancock warns of surge in people with no symptoms seeking Covid-19 tests

9 September 2020, 10:57 | Updated: 9 September 2020, 14:01

The Health Secretary has said priority for tests should be for those with symptoms
The Health Secretary has said priority for tests should be for those with symptoms. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said about 25% of people getting Covid-19 tests do not have symptoms and those showing signs of the virus should be given priority.

Speaking on LBC's Nick Ferrari at breakfast, the Health Secretary said: “We have record numbers going through the testing system, but unfortunately the number of people who aren't eligible coming forward has gone up.”

“So we have to be really clear that if you have symptoms please come forward and get a test, but I want those tests to be available for people with symptoms.”

His comments come as individuals tell LBC how they have been let down by the testing system, with some driving long distances only to be turned away from the testing centre because they have “run out of tests”

Matt Hancock speaks to LBC's Nick Ferrari

Steve Hyndside drove two hours from Wales to Telford only to be turned away for his testing appointment because they had “run out of tests”.

Speaking to LBC, Steve explained that he booked a test for his one-year-old and three-year-old after they developed a cough during their holiday in Wales.

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On Tuesday evening he drove his two children two hours to Telford, the closest available test centre, arriving there five minutes before the appointment, “only to be met by massive traffic jams, real confusion and lots of people in high-vis jackets turning people away.”

“One person in a high-vis jacket said to me that they had run out of tests and they were closing the centre and they were sorry,” Steve recounted.

Steve Hyndside said he was turned away after taking his kids two hours away for a test
Steve Hyndside said he was turned away after taking his kids two hours away for a test. Picture: LBC

For Steve it is particularly personal after his father died from coronavirus earlier in the year, having caught it in a care home.

He called on Matt Hancock to “step up and take responsibility for” testing, saying: “it is not enough for a government run system to be this shambolic on something as important as the coronavirus.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned of young people spreading Covid
Earlier this week the Health Secretary warned of young people spreading Covid. Picture: LBC

Reacting to the Health Secretary’s suggestion that it was those without symptoms that were to blame for the testing problems, Steve was not impressed.

“If that is true, he needs to take responsibility for that, for the lack of clarity of messaging and clear information for people,” he said.

“Nobody is going to drive to shove a cotton bud up their nose and into the back of their throat for fun. They're doing this because they are scared and because they don't have that clear guidance and information.

“They're running adverts to say get tested and then the Health Secretary's big top line message is people are going to get tested when they shouldn't get tested. I mean if it wasn't so serious it would be laughable.”

Emma Gorse, from Telford, was also turned away at the testing site on Tuesday evening, where she was trying to get a test for her 12-year-old son.

Labelling the government’s handling of the pandemic as “absolutely atrocious”, Emma told LBC that her GP had instructed her to take her son in for a test, after he developed a temperature of 39 degrees and a headache.

“I booked into Telford, which is literally ten minutes from home, but so did everyone else by the looks of it,” Emma said, “I was told there was a computer glitch and there were no more tests”.

Emma says the only centre available when she checked this morning was a one and a half hour drive to Leicester.

Her son, who is in Year 8, has been told by his school that he cannot return before he receives a negative test result, while her eldest son in Year 11 has also been forced to self-isolate.

In response to the testing problems in Telford the local MP, Conservative Lucy Allan, said: “Shocked to hear reports that Telford testing centre closed last night after being overwhelmed with people travelling across country for a test after a computer error.

“I am working with local partners, Public Health England and ministers. Will keep residents updated.”

The continued problems with the system come after Tuesday’s “heartfelt apology” from the Director of Testing at the NHS to those who were unable to get tested.

As well as drive-in testing centres, there have also been difficulties in ordering home test kits.

Emily Wolfenden, a landscape gardener from Stroud, told LBC she has been forced to “pull two children out of school” and lost income, after her home test kit was delayed.

Her seven-year-old son was told to get a test after developing a raised temperature and a cough on Sunday morning.

“Eventually by Sunday evening I had managed to book a postal test that said it would come the following day,” Emma said.

“But it didn't arrive until Tuesday evening... I thought it would be fairly swift but obviously it hasn't been. The test was delayed and then it has said that it could be 72 plus hours until we get the result, after they receive it."

Children “always have a cold and a cough throughout winter,” Emma said, “if we have to take a week out every single time I can't see how we will ever get back to school and work at all.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told LBC: “NHS Test and Trace is working, our capacity is the highest it has ever been and our laboratories are processing more than a million tests a week.

“We are seeing a significant demand for tests but if you have symptoms we urge you to get tested. New booking slots and homes testing kits are made available daily and you can help protect yourself if you wash your hands, cover your face and make space.

“We are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, as well as prioritising at-risk groups and we recently announced new laboratory facilities and new technology to process results even faster.”