UK government hits back over virus test concerns

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will face MPs in the Commons on the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis

Several months after Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised a "world beating" system to test and trace coronavirus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Tuesday admitted "operational challenges" mean it could be weeks before the current problems are resolved.

Mr Hancock added: "I do not shirk from decisions about prioritisation".

He said: "People want to know when they will get a test and when this mess will be fixed".

He told MPs there had been a "sharp rise" in those seeking a test, "including those who are not eligible".

NHS leaders have called for health workers and patients to be given priority after Government sources admitted that demand for tests is now far outstripping supply. She told the BBC that more testing slots and home testing kits were being made available as demand had risen and most people didn't need to travel more than 10 miles. Schools across the United Kingdom also said they were struggling to get enough tests for teachers and pupils who were therefore forced to self-isolate instead if they exhibit symptoms.

Acute clinical care is the top priority, with social care next on the list and now receiving more than 100,000 tests a day.

Mr Hancock defended the Government's approach following questions from his Labour counterpart Jon Ashworth, telling MPs: "We'll deliver on the challenges today, I don't deny those challenges, but what I do is face the facts to deliver on those challenges rather than simply complaining".

Mr Hopson said the funds need to know more details so they can plan accordingly, for example by setting up their test facilities.

NHS Providers has warned that the continued shortage of tests could send hospitals into chaos since NHS admissions of people with cancer, heart attacks and other deadly diseases already fell significantly in the first half of the year since priority was given to Covid-19 treatment.

Britain's testing system for COVID-19 was creaking on Tuesday as a bottleneck prevented people including medics from getting a test, with the government saying it may take weeks to resolve the problem. "I think there is a surge in demand (and) I think our stated capacity is very different from actually how many tests can be run in a given day", he said.

Virus test shortages harming health system, say UK hospitals

He also insisted the average distance travelled to a test site was now 5.8 miles.

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

Chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul will say in a speech later today: "Down here on planet Earth, we need a fit-for-purpose test and trace system in the here and now with capacity, agility and accessibility that doesn't require 100-mile journeys that disadvantage some of the most vulnerable".

But he acknowledged the virus was spreading, both in the United Kingdom and around the world.

A No 10 spokesman said: "We would say that it is wrong to say that testing is not available in these areas".

The shortage comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the United Kingdom that has pushed daily positive tests to levels last seen in late May and forced the government to impose new controls on public gatherings.

The testing situation was discussed at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Hancock said Britain's testing capacity is being expanded, and now has the capacity to process about 243,000 coronavirus tests a day, up from 220,000 at the end of August.

She said: "A number of them have also been advised that if they put an Aberdeen postcode into the system, they can get a test in Twickenham and they have succeeded".

Chris Hopson, chief executive of the hospitals' group NHS Providers, said that health bosses were "working in the dark", adding that medical chiefs from Bristol, Leeds and London are all raising concerns about the lack of testing availability "leading to greater levels of staff absence".

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