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A Minister Has Suggested Pupils And Parents Will Be A High Priority Group When Testing Is Rationed

Matt Hancock revealed he would start to prioritise coronavirus testing again (PA)

3 min read

Pupils and their parents will be in the highest priority group after NHS and care staff for coronavirus testing when rationing is introduced shortly, the justice secretary has suggested.

Robert Buckland said the move would be made to try to keep schools open. He was speaking after teachers described to PoliticsHome how badly the coronavirus testing crisis is affecting them, with some saying the impact is so severe they may have to shut classrooms altogether.

In response to a backlog of swab kits at laboratories and reports of tests not being available almost anywhere in England yesterday, health secretary Matt Hancock suggested the government will begin to prioritise who can get a test in the coming days.

Currently anyone who displays coronavirus symptoms can, in theory, get a test, but Hancock told MPs staff and patients in hospitals and care homes would soon be first in line as they deal with “operational challenges” which could take weeks to fix.

And Mr Buckland suggested school pupils and their parents could be next in line for testing.

He told Sky News: "It has to be the NHS first and then social care, and then I think what we need to do is have a cascading system where we know where our priority should be.

"For me, our priority should be children in school and their parents in order to make sure their lives are safe and also, importantly, they're not disrupted in the way that we're seeing."

He admitted the government was facing "real challenges" after people opted to turn up to hospital A&Es as there were no available bookings online on Tuesday.

Mr Buckland added: "I think laboratory capacity has been an issue, we're working our way through that, we're increasing the number of test centres - we've got 400 test centres, getting it up to 500 - but clearly there are still real challenges.

"I think the announcement by Matt Hancock yesterday to create a prioritisation system is the right thing to do.

"He is going to develop that very quickly over the next few days, to explain to us what that looks like but I think... it has to be the NHS first and then social care.

"And then I think what we need to do is have a cascading system where we know where our priority should be and for me priority should be for children in school and their parents in order to ensure their lives are safe and also importantly they are not disrupted in the way we are seeing."

His comments come after Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said keeping schools open would become "unsustainable" if issues with testing capacity were not fixed.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said headteachers were being forced to decide whether the "bubble has to stay at home" if a pupil or teacher in a particular year group had shown Covid-19 symptoms, but could not get a test to prove they were negative.

"This will feel I think like lockdown by default - it will be more frustrating for parents because you can't predict whether it is going to happen,” he said.

"And similarly from the headteacher's point of view, if my Year 4 teacher today shows symptoms, will he or she be in school tomorrow, will they be here for the next 14 days?

"As soon as you start to get that with six, seven, eight teachers, it becomes unsustainable to be able to run things."

Mr Barton said teachers should be given testing priority and they “need to be counted as key workers in order that you can at least keep that maths teacher in front of 30 young people if their test is negative”.

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