No tests available in any of England's top 10 coronavirus hotspots
There were no tests available in any of England’s top 10 coronavirus hotspots yesterday, reports say.
People in Bolton, Salford, Bradford, Blackburn, Oldham, Preston, Pendle, Rochdale, Tameside and Manchester were unable to book walk-in, drive-through or home tests, despite repeated government promises to deliver a ‘world-beating’ system, according to LBC.
It comes as health leaders called on the Government to be more ‘honest’ about problems with Covid-19 testing as a senior doctor said a ‘fit for purpose’ system is needed now.
There have been signs of strain on testing capabilities for some time now, with the public telling of large queues, repeatedly being unable to get tests and some being offered tests hundreds of miles away from their homes.
Increased strain coincides with anxiety among parents about sending their children back to school and fears that they could be spreading the virus.
The issues are also contributing to staff absences with some health workers having to self-isolate because they or members of their household are unable to get tests, an organisation representing trust leaders said.
The British Medical Association’s council chairman said that despite the Government’s ambitious Operation Moonshot plan for millions of UK tests to be carried out daily, the focus must be on the testing system currently in place.
In a speech to the doctors’ union’s annual meeting on Tuesday, Dr Chaand Nagpaul is expected to say: ‘The Government is now shooting for the moon promising to deliver mass continuous testing with a test that doesn’t yet exist at a cost nearly as much as the total NHS budget.
‘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.’
NHS Providers added that trusts are ‘working in the dark’ because they are not being told why the shortages are occurring or how long they are likely to last.
The organisation’s Chief executive Chris Hopson urged the Government ‘to be honest and open’ and stop ignoring ‘the operational problem at hand’.
He said there has often been a reliance on a ‘random, impressive sounding, overall statistic’, giving the examples of a ‘world class test and trace service by June, or a moonshot testing regime at some point next year’.
Deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery told the BBC a lack of testing was affecting services across the UK.
She said: ‘It means that trusts up and down the country are unable to start the restoration of services that we so desperately need to see after Covid.
‘And also, critically, they are now preparing for winter and if they have staff unable to come and work on the front line because they haven’t had tests that’s going to make it incredibly difficult for them.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted last week that there had been ‘challenges in access to tests’ but insisted that ‘the vast majority of people get their tests rapidly and close to home’.
Residents in Bolton, where the infection rate is the highest in England, have complained of long delays in trying to book a test and in some cases being offered appointments in other areas of the UK.
Council chiefs have urged the Government to treat ‘major flaws’ with the online booking system for tests as ‘a matter of the utmost priority’.
Council leaders in Sefton, Merseyside, and Bury, Greater Manchester, urged people to only apply for a test if they had symptoms or had been asked to do so, amid reports of a rise in requests from those without symptoms.
An NHS spokeswoman said hospital labs have been asked to ‘further expand their successful, fast-turnaround and highly accurate testing capacity’ to support the test and trace programme.
Meanwhile Labour has called on the Government to set out a ‘clear winter plan’ to protect care homes amid signs they are experiencing a new rise in Covid-19 cases.
In a letter to Mr Hancock, shadow minister for social care Liz Kendall said there must be action in five areas – one being the weekly, rapid testing of care staff across all settings – to ensure past ‘mistakes’ are not repeated.
The World Health Organisation’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday that testing was one of the ‘public health basics’ countries need to do well to be able to ‘reopen their societies, economies and borders safely’.
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