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A Health Select Committee MP Says A Leaked Report Showing A Backlog Of 185,000 Tests “Shows A New Level Of Ministerial Incompetence”

A leaked report suggests the UK's true testing capacity is currently far lower than the official figure (PA)

3 min read

A leaked report claiming there is a backlog of 185,000 Covid-19 tests shows “a new level of ministerial incompetence” just as infection rates rise, according to a senior MP.

According to The Sunday Times the government’s supposedly “world-beating” programme is so overstretched samples are being sent to laboratories in Italy and Germany for processing.

Citing a Department of Health and Social Care report marked “Official: sensitive”, it is alleged the much-vaunted capacity to do 375,000 tests a day is far higher than the number which can actually take place.

Due to “chaos” in supply chains at the start of the month just 437,000 people a week were being tested, equivalent to just 62,000 a day.

It comes after widespread reports this week that people seeking a test were either told a home kit was not available, or were urged to travel hundreds of miles to a drive-in centre.

Meanwhile there have been almost 20,000 new coronavirus infections in the past week, including 3,497 reported yesterday.

In response to criticism this week Boris Johnson said he has commissioned Operation Moonshot, which aims to make 10 million tests available every day, at a potential cost of £100billion.

But Labour’s Barbara Keeley, who sits on the health select committee, said: “Instead of making ludicrous claims about mass testing and ‘Operation Moonshot’, the government should get a grip of this current testing fiasco, deal with the lack of laboratory capacity and sort out the system to get results back to people tested within 24 hours.”

The former shadow health minister told PoliticsHome: “Other countries have managed to establish effective testing and contact tracing systems and it shows a new level of ministerial incompetence that our system has lapsed into such chaos at a time when infection rates are rising. 

“It’s time the government handed the leadership of testing and tracing over to our local Directors of Public Health, who are doing a good job but with very limited resources.”

The Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Munira Wilson said it was a “sobering” story, adding: “While the health secretary Matt Hancock is busy blaming the public for taking tests when they shouldn’t, reality is his so-called ‘world beating’ testing system is on its knees. 

“Backlog numbers and turnaround times are shocking.”

The Sunday Times also reveals leaked figures confirm reports that targets for testing times are also being misses, with three-quarters taking longer than 24 hours from booking to result. 

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth told the newspaper: “People ill or with a sick child desperate for a test will be astonished that tests are piling up, left unprocessed, or even thrown away, because of errors in transportation and swabbing, while at the same time we are testing less than capacity. 

“This really is ministerial incompetence at a whole new level.”

In response the Department of Health said: “Test and trace is working and our capacity is the highest it has ever been, but we are seeing a significant demand, including from people who do not have symptoms and are not otherwise eligible.”

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