Testing scandal: Labour challenges Government over lack of tests in Covid hotspots

15 September 2020, 14:14 | Updated: 15 September 2020, 14:19

The Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary asked why the NHS didn't use the summer to increase testing capacity
The Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary asked why the NHS didn't use the summer to increase testing capacity. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Labour MPs have questioned the Health Secretary over a lack of coronavirus tests in some of the areas where the number of cases is highest.

Highlighting an investigation by LBC's Westminster Correspondent Ben Kentish, Labour's Jonathan Ashworth raised an urgent question in the House of Commons

The Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary asked Health Secretary Matt Hanock why the NHS didn't use the Summer to expand NHS lab capacity for testing and "fix contact tracing."

Mr Ashworth said: "Yesterday LBC revealed there were no tests available in Covid hotspots including Rochdale, Pendle and Bradford."

Highlighting the increasing number of infections he told MPs that, "in Bolton where infections are highest in the country a mobile testing centre failed to turn up."

Adding: "Meanwhile in Bury hundreds queued for five hours for a test."

The Labour MP said 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.

His comments come after 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.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs that the average distance travelled to a test site is now 5.8 miles.

He told the Commons: "Everyone in this House knows that we're doing more testing per head of population than almost 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.

"As we expand capacity further, we're working around the clock to make sure everyone who needs a test can get a test.

"The vast majority of people who use our testing service get a test that is close to home and the average distance travelled to a test site is now just 5.8 miles, down from 6.4 miles last week."

Matt Hancock added that there are "operational challenges" with testing which the Government is "working hard" to fix.

He said: "We've seen a sharp rise in people coming forward for a test, including those who are not eligible.

"And throughout this pandemic we have prioritised testing according to need."

Mr Hancock added: "I do not shirk from decisions about prioritisation. They're not always comfortable, but they are important.

"The top priority is and always has been acute clinical care. 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.

"We'll set out in full an updated prioritisation and I do not rule out further steps to make sure our tests are used according to those priorities."

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