Up to 75% of people aren't getting tested for coronavirus, test and trace chief Dido Harding admits

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read

Watch: Dido Harding says COVID testing demand is up to four times higher than capacity

  • Baroness Dido Harding admits demand for coronavirus tests is “three to four times” more than availability

  • NHS Test and Trace chief speaks for first time in month amid continued testing capacity issues

  • She faces criticism over why capacity wasn’t put in place during the “quieter” summer months

  • Visit the Yahoo homepage for more stories

NHS Test and Trace chief Dido Harding has admitted up to 75% of people who want a coronavirus test are unable to get one.

Baroness Harding told MPs the number of people trying to access the coronavirus testing hotline and website is “three to four times the number of tests that we currently have available”.

Boris Johnson’s government is under growing pressure amid the continued issues with its testing system.

Appearing before the science and technology committee of MPs on Thursday, Baroness Harding said: “It’s clearly obvious there is significantly more demand than there is capacity today.

Screen grab of Baroness Dido Harding, Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace Science giving evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee ,in the House of Commons, London, on UK testing capacity after Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted there is not enough capacity in the testing system after demand "massively accelerated" in recent weeks. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Baroness Dido Harding at the science and technology committee on Thursday. (PA)

“The best way we have of estimating the total demand at the moment is the number of people calling 119 and the number of visits to the website.

“The number of people calling 119 and visiting the website would be three to four times the number of tests that we currently have available.”

However, she added this would involve some double counting, with people using different phone numbers.

She told the committee that the latest capacity for diagnostic tests was 242,817.

Before Thursday’s committee hearing, Baroness Harding had not made a public statement since 19 August.

Tory MP Greg Clark, who chairs the committee, told her: “It is dispiriting to find that we are now in September, in circumstances which are entirely predictable – people are going back to school, people are going back to work – and we haven’t had the right capacity put in place during the quieter times of June, July and August.”

Problems have included huge queues for tests, people reporting they have been unable to get tests, and others being offered tests hundreds of miles from their homes.

And health secretary Matt Hancock admitted in the House of Commons on Tuesday that the issues will take “weeks” to solve as he introduced a priority system for tests.

People queue up outside a coronavirus testing centre offering walk-in appointments in north London.
People queue outside a coronavirus testing centre in north London on Thursday, as NHS Test and Trace chief Dido Harding said 'there is significantly more demand than there is capacity'. (PA)

Johnson, meanwhile, told MPs on Wednesday that demand has “massively accelerated” in the past two weeks because people are “seeking to get a test in the hope that they can thereby be released to get on with their lives in the normal way”.

The PM has promised testing capacity will reach 500,000 by the end of October.

As well as testing, Baroness Harding is also under pressure over contact tracing, which she also oversees in her role.

Earlier on Thursday, it was revealed 73.9% of close contacts of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in England were reached through the test and trace system in the week ending 9 September. This is below the 80% target figure.

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