The minister said the government was “surging capacity” in areas under local lockdown restrictions – despite reports no tests were available in England’s ten worst-hit hotspots on Monday.
The minister said it was “wrong to say” that there were no tests available in areas under lockdown after she was quizzed about the long delays in trying to book a test in Bolton – the area with England’s single-highest infection rate.
“Tests are available, you’ve heard me say, particularly in local lockdown areas, I’ve seen this myself, I’ve seen the teams that have been working on this,” she told BBC Breakfast.
“Mobile testing is going in, capacity is going into local areas where lockdowns have been undertaken and are taking place. I think it is wrong to say tests are not available – new book-in slots are being made available every single day [and] mobile testing units are being made available.”
It follows reports on LBC Radio and The Times that no tests of any kind were available in the ten areas with the highest Covid-19 infection rates on Monday, after attempts were to book them in Bolton, Salford, Manchester, Bradford, Blackburn, Oldham, Preston, Pendle, Rochdale and Tameside.
Many people have shared their own stories on social media about being unable to access a test or having to make trips of hundreds of miles to get one.
Despite the growing frustration, home secretary claimed that the majority of tests were available within a 10-mile radius.
“It seems to me there’ll be extreme cases where people can’t get to test locations within that radius but that doesn’t mean that Public Health England are not working night and day to boost capacity,” she added.
Health leaders, meanwhile, have shared their concerns that a lack of testing is contributing to staff absences across the NHS and putting services at risk.
NHS Providers, which represents NHS trust leaders, said hospitals in Bristol, Leeds and London had raised concerns over the weekend about the lack of tests available for staff.
“The government isn’t being honest and open about the scale of the problem”— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) September 15, 2020
NHS Providers CEO Chris Hopson tells #BBCBreakfast trust leaders are frustrated staff are unable to get tests. https://t.co/qv9zaGcgL4 pic.twitter.com/zshM6DltEZ
The organisation’s chief executive Chris Hopson said: “Part of the problem here is that the government isn’t being as open as trusts would like about how big this problem is, how widespread it is, and how long it’s going to last.
He added: “We have now got cases where patients who should be being treated, we can’t treat them because they can't get access to a test. So, for them that’s a real problem.”
Ms Patel did concede some people have been unable to get tests, telling the BBC she found those cases “unacceptable”.
She added: “Clearly there is much more work that needs to be undertaken with Public Health England and the actual public health bodies in those particular local areas.
“As a government we work with Public Health England to surge where there is demand in local hotspot areas and we continue to do that.”
The latest government figures show just over 220,000 coronavirus tests are getting processed each day.