Current testing shortages put NHS service recovery at risk

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit shows Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock giving a statement on coronavirus Sept. 10 2020

"I don't deny that it is an enormous challenge and when you have a free service, it's inevitable that demand rises", Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament.

The Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary Jonathon Ashworth asked Mr Hanock why the NHS didn't use the Summer to expand NHS lab capacity for testing and "fix contact tracing".

Because of the surge in demand for tests, the United Kingdom government has promised to increase capacity and urged people only to get a test if they are showing symptoms.

NHS staff absences have started to increase notably in parts of the country as staff and their family members struggle to access coronavirus tests, forcing them to remain in self-isolation in the absence of a test for themselves or their close family.

Britain's health minister said on Tuesday that the government was working around the clock to fix what he said were "operational challenges" in the novel coronavirus testing system caused by a surge in demand.

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

Government sources acknowledged there was no accurate data on how many people who are not eligible for a test have tried to book one. "The next priority is social care, where we're now sending over 100,000 tests a day because we've all seen the risks this virus poses in care homes". "They are not always comfortable but they are important", he said.

"The problem is that NHS trusts are working in the dark - they don't know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests".

He said: "We've seen a sharp rise in people coming forward for a test, including those who are not eligible."And throughout this pandemic we have prioritised testing according to need".

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

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Labour's Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) said Deloitte staff told people they could not visit a walk-in test centre in her area, adding: "Over 90 people were turned away from one centre alone".

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.

A No 10 spokesman said: "Our capacity continues to be targeted to where it is most needed, which is why booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for people with symptoms". But the estimated cost for the program almost matches the whole NHS budget, Dr. Chaand Nagpaul says in a speech he plans to deliver Tuesday to the annual meeting of the doctor's union.

The government says it has the capacity to process about 243,000 coronavirus tests a day, up from 220,000 at the end of August. She also said that medics "should have no issue in terms of accessing a test", while calling instances in which people were unable to get tests "unacceptable".

Sir John told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think what's going wrong is the second wave".

"Trusts also have a concern about the impact of testing shortages on patients who need to be tested prior to planned hospital treatment".

Moz Bulbeck Reynolds, who lives west of London, said she had been unable to schedule a test through the government testing website since Monday morning.

Lord Bethell of Romford, the testing minister, told peers yesterday that "we are throwing everything we can at the test and trace system", acknowledging though that demand had been too high.

Professor Alan McNally, director of the institute of microbiology and infection at the University of Birmingham, told the BBC there were clearly underlying issues which nobody wants to tell us about, together with increased need for testing.

A Government source said that while hospital admissions for Covid-19 are now at a low level, they will rise as infections rise across the community.

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