HUGE queues have piled up at coronavirus testing sites as some areas reportedly ran out – and Matt Hancock warned this lunchtime the shambles and shortages could last for WEEKS.
The Health Secretary said he would have to set out new rules for rationing tests and prioritising people in the NHS and social care settings to try and fight the chaos and shortages.
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The Health Sec admitted there had been “operational” challenges to the testing system, blaming people who are not eligible to get swabbed, for delays, and the increased demand.
He even said it was “inevitable” that demand rises when a “free service” is available.
Kids returning to school are being blamed for shortages across the country.
And he said the chaos could continue for weeks, saying: “We will be able to solve this problem in a matter of weeks.
“We are managing to deliver record capacity… demand is also high, and the response to that is to make sure we have prioritisation so the people who most need it can get the tests they need it.”
He faced furious MPs, who have been flooded with complaints from constituents about not being able to get a test.
He was told the system is a “bloody mess” as even MPs got caught in the chaos.
Lib Dem MP Minura Wilson said some of her Twickenham constituents had only managed to get a test in their local area by entering an Aberdeen postcode into the online system.
Hundreds of people have complained of not being able to get a test in their local area, with some people being sent as far as 300 miles away to get a swab.
It was revealed by LBC yesterday that there were no tests available in any of the top ten places in the UK with the highest number of fresh coronavirus infections.
Some testing centres have been completely deserted while others have been flooded with people.
In Southend there were queues from 8am this morning as hundreds tried to get a test despite not having an appointment.
The facility reportedly had run out of tests yesterday by 10am and people were turned away.
Labs are struggling to process all the samples and are forcing test centres to have to cut back on appointments.
People have been unable to get tests in Cambridge and have been forced to drive as far as Heathrow or Birmingham for a test, while a centre in Cambridge was almost empty.
Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner says he has received a “flood of complaints” from residents who have been unable to get an appointment to be Covid tested at the Milton site.
He told ITV that some of his constituents are having to wait eight hours to get a test, while others have been “cut off on multiple occasions while waiting on the 119 phone line.”
But Labour MP for Harrow West Gareth Thomas told Mr Hancock his constituents were unable to get a test in Harrow or in nearby Heathrow.
He demanded to know why the testing centre at Heathrow is “so unused” at the moment.
The Health Secretary said they would have to look at rationing tests after the “sharp rise” in demand.
And he warned that there is “evidence the number of cases in care home and hospitalisation have started to rise again”.
Testing centres are prioritising health care workers and those with acute medical conditions – much like what happened at the start of the pandemic where there weren’t enough tests to go around.
The latest Government figures showed that just 200,000 tests were carried out, despite the capacity to do more than 300,000.
Lab capacity was blamed for the blockages in some areas.
Mr Hancock said today: “Throughout this pandemic, we have prioritised testing according to need.
“Over the summer, when demand was low, we were able to meet all requirements for testing, whether priorities or not.
“But as demand has risen, so we are having to prioritise once again and I do not shirk from decisions about prioritisation. They are not always comfortable, but they are important.”
He said an updated list of prioritisation setting out who would be at the front of the queue for tests would be published shortly.
This morning Priti Patel defended the tests and said capacity was growing every day.
She said: “Our capacity is at the highest level it has been since coronavirus.”
“I think we have to recognise this is challenging. There is no magic solution to say that it is all going to be perfect.”
Boris Johnson’s spokesman said this lunchtime: “We are working hard to increase capacity. We have recently announced a new lab in Leicestershire, which will process around 50,000 antigen tests a day in the next few weeks, and we have also opened a new lab at Newport.”
The new “rule of six” was introduced yesterday to try and curb new infections.
Mr Hancock defended the rules, saying it was essential people followed the rules – including children, despite those under 11 and 12-years-old being excluded from the limit in Wales and Scotland respectively.
He said: “Children do transmit this virus, we made the decision to keep the rule simple and as simple as possible considering all these risks.”