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Sun, 27 September 2020

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It’s crucial this government gets a grip of its failing Covid-19 testing programme

It’s crucial this government gets a grip of its failing Covid-19 testing programme

People in Luton are being told to go to Leicester, Twickenham told to go to Aberdeen – but no drive through tests are available, writes Sarah Owen MP. | PA Images

3 min read

People are desperate to do the right thing, but the delayed test and trace app, the absolute shambles of a testing process and the unwillingness to take any responsibility, shows this government is as complacent as it is incompetent.

MPs across the House are all hearing the same thing from their constituents. We’re telling Matt Hancock that people are having problems getting tests when they need them and crucially, where they need them.

People in Luton are being told to go to Leicester, Twickenham told to go to Aberdeen – but no drive through tests are available. People are being turned away from walk in centres and home testing kits are rarer than rocking horse manure. Yet, the Secretary of State refused to hear or even acknowledge these issues.

The robotic recital of statistics on capacity and numbers tested, felt like a crude attempt to gaslight anyone with genuine concerns. Yes, he had the number of people tested but not the number of people who had tried and couldn’t get a test.

Having been one of the first areas of intervention, we learned in Luton that reliable and accurate data is vital in the fight to control Covid-19. If people with symptoms can’t get tested, and if people who are told to isolate can’t get tested, how is anyone supposed to know with any great certainty how many people actually have Covid-19?

People are desperate to do the right thing and protect the NHS and their loved ones, yet when they go to book a test, too many are met with ‘computer says no.’

The truth behind Moonshot and boasts about capacity, is chaos and incompetence. We’ve seen contracts handed out to Tory pals in the private sector and a lack of joined up thinking. Contracts which presumably block and restrict common sense thinking. Why not send tests by courier to where we know there is the most need, and then send them by courier back to be processed?

We’re always told that market-focused private providers in the health service are there to best respond to patients’ needs and demands, but here’s another fine display of that mantra just being wrong.

Test kits produced by Randox laboratories had to be ditched because they did not meet the required safety standards for coronavirus testing

On the Health and Social Care Select Committee, some of us raised concerns when Dido Harding was unable to answer even the simplest questions when it came to Test and Trace. Her suitability for the role has also come into question. There was no transparency over her appointment, nor has there been with any contracts dished out to Serco, nor the £133 million contract for Randox Laboratories which is advised by ex-Tory Cabinet Minister Owen Patterson.

Serco’s Test and Trace attempts in August only reached 52.4% of people from the same household and test kits produced by Randox laboratories had to be ditched because they did not meet the required safety standards for coronavirus testing. This is an abject and dangerous failure which it seems nobody in Government is willing to take responsibility for.

More importantly, there is no accountability. If we are to get this right for the length of time Covid-19 is with us, then we need to be honest about where the handling of the pandemic has gone wrong as well as right.

The delayed test and trace app, the absolute shambles of a testing process and the unwillingness to take any responsibility shows this Government is as complacent as it is incompetent.

If we have any hope of getting through a winter flu season and another spike in Covid cases, it is crucial that the Government gets a grip of testing.

 

Sarah Owen is the Labour MP for Luton North and is a member of the Health and Social Care Select Committee.

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