Priti Patel defends coronavirus testing despite lack of tests in hotspots

15 September 2020, 08:26 | Updated: 15 September 2020, 14:35

By Megan White

Priti Patel has defended the coronavirus testing system despite tests being unavailable in the top ten Covid-19 hotspots in England.

Speaking to LBC’s Nick Ferrari, the Home Secretary said that although demand is rising, capacity has also increased.

LBC tried to request a test in every one of the postcodes on Public Health England’s watchlist where infection rates are highest, including Bolton which has a surging 192 cases per 100,000 people.

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But despite LBC mentioning in the Government testing portal that symptoms had developed over the weekend, it returned an error message, saying there were zero tests available in any of the ten local lockdown areas.

The shortage applied for all three of the tests supposed to be available - home testing kits, drive-through sites and walk-in sites.

Defending the system, Ms Patel said: “I’m hearing different stories this morning about challenges around testing.

“Testing has been challenging, that is a fact throughout coronavirus, but let’s be clear, the demand for testing is going up and there is greater capacity for testing, so in the local lockdown areas, we’ve said this many times, mobile testing units are being brought in place, more home testing kits are being issued, and obviously more slots are available on a daily basis for individuals who are symptomatic to go and get a test.

“We’re seeing the increase in the virus right now, and with that of course, testing demand is going up, but also testing capacity is going up as well.”

The areas where LBC tried to request a test are: Bolton, Salford, Bradford, Blackburn and Darwen, Oldham, Preston, Pendle, Rochdale, Tameside and Manchester.

The problem appears to lie with testing labs where, according to leaked government figures, there is already a backlog of 185,000 swabs – meaning even those able to get a test are having to wait days for the result.

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The lack of lab capacity means that some tests being conducted cannot be processed, so tests are showing up as unavailable until labs are free.

The Government said it was “working hard” to increase lab capacity, including opening a new lab in Newport and another lab is due to open in Leicestershire in the coming weeks with capacity to process 50,000 tests a day.

Mr Johnson revealed last week that he had commissioned Operation Moonshot, a plan to carry out up to 10 million tests daily by the spring - costing up to £100bn, more than three quarters of the annual NHS budget.

The Department for Health denied tests were not available in the area, saying the capacity "continues to be targeted where it is needed most."

A spokesperson added: “Whilst we are seeing significant demand, over a million tests are being processed every week – with around 200,000 every day on average over the last week.

“New booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for people with symptoms, and Mobile Testing Units continue to be deployed to areas with local outbreaks.

“If you do not have symptoms and are not eligible to get a test, you can continue to protect yourself if you wash your hands, wear a face covering and follow social distancing rules.”

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