Labour Say Free Testing Could Continue If The Government Had Not Spent Billions On "Dodgy PPE"
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has criticised the Government for plans to end free lateral flow tests. Credit: Alamy.
Free Covid-19 testing for the general population could be extended if the government had not wasted so much money during the pandemic on poor equipment and loans, Labour has claimed.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has accused the government of wasting “billions on dodgy personal protective equipment” and said if the Tories had been smarter with their money, they would have had the resources to keep testing in place for longer.
Boris Johnson is expected today to announce the end of free Covid testing for the general public after he said on Sunday that to carry on with January's high testing rate, the Treasury would have to pay out £2 billion a month.
“If the Tories hadn’t wasted billions on dodgy PPE and fraudulent Covid loans they’d be able to keep crucial free testing in place for longer,” Streeting told PoliticsHome.
“Free tests can't go on forever, but this is the wrong decision at the wrong time," he continued.
“While infections remain high and we face the risk of new strains, testing is crucial for keeping infections under control and preventing the return of restrictions on our lives, livelihoods and liberties.
“Testing is particularly important for frontline workers and immunocompromised people who are more vulnerable to the virus.”
Earlier this year the Department of Health and Social Care admitted that £8.7 billion had been wasted on PPE as so much of it was unusable, past its sell-by-date, or hugely overpriced.
Departmental documents showed items costing £673m were unusable, while £750m of equipment was not used before its expiry date.
The most significant expense was paying £4.7 billion to procure PPE, which was being sold at a value far higher than its worth and has subsequently lost its value, and £2.6 billion on equipment judged to be unsuitable for use by the NHS, but the department said it could be given to charities.
Health minister Ed Argar said at the time that the disruption to the market, coupled with the unprecedented spike in demand, "resulted in a huge inflation in price for goods and intense global competition to secure scarce supplies".
Labour has also accused the Chancellor Rishi Sunak of ''writing off' £4.3 billion in fraudulent Covid loans, which the senior Tory has consistently denied.
Reports have suggested that the Department for Health and Social Care believes £5.8 billion has been stolen by workers and businesses claiming money they were not entitled to, but that they will only retrieve £1 in every £4 back.
Sunak has said he is going after the lost money and this is not going to be ignored.
But Labour said without the two significant areas of financial waste – which amount to £13 billion – there could have been funds for the testing to continue, and it would be a "mistake" to stop testing as it can protect the vulnerable and front-line workers.
Johnson said on Sunday that the free testing needed to come to an end.
"We need resilience but we don't need to keep, for instance on testing, we don't need to keep spending at a rate of £2 billion a month, which is what we were doing in January," he told the BBC.
"We will be testing at a much lower level ... as the number of cases diminishes, and certainly the number of patients in hospital is thankfully coming down now, the number of cases in ICU is certainly way, way down, we're in a different world.
"I think it is important that people should feel confident again and that people should feel able to go back to work in the normal way. I do want to see our country really getting back on its feet."
Labour’s shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty, told Sky today that free tests can’t go on forever but now is not the time to scrap them.
He said: “They are absolutely critical for key workers to make sure they’re not infecting workers and others who they’re working with when they’re in key jobs up and down the country.”
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