The Health Secretary has claimed the Government’s coronavirus testing system is working “well” after suggestions that people are being directed to centres more than 100 miles away.
Matt Hancock said there are “operational challenges from time to time” with the regime, after a postcode analysis by the BBC showed some people are being told the closest available tests are hours from home.
The broadcaster said this shows the Government is rationing tests, while public health experts believe any restrictions will lead to the start of new spikes being missed.
Mr Hancock told Sky News: “At the moment the system works well. Of course there are operational challenges from time to time but it works well.
“And we’re finding a higher and higher proportion of people in the country who have coronavirus and getting them tests so they can be looked after.
“But absolutely, we need to roll out more testing – we have done throughout this crisis and today’s another step in solving some of those problems with the existing technology.”
He said the issue was part of the reason why the Government was investing in trials of quicker Covid-19 tests.
On Thursday, the Government committed to a £500 million support package for 20-minute tests in an effort to achieve mass population testing, a task dubbed “operation moonshot” in Whitehall.
Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Short of a vaccine, this is the best chance we have of reducing social distancing whilst controlling the virus, especially with winter coming, with all the challenges that brings.”
Mr Hancock would not put a date on when mass testing may be rolled out nationwide, but said having a normal Christmas was dependent on it unless a vaccine was developed.
“I hope that if this mass testing regime comes off, if the new technologies we’re working so hard on work, or if we manage to get a vaccine before now and then, then I hope we can have a happy and loving Christmas that people yearn for,” he told Today.
The funding will go towards expanding trials of the speedy no-swab saliva test in Southampton and elsewhere in Hampshire, and launching a repeat testing trial in Salford, Greater Manchester.
One professor believes this change should have been made over the summer when the country was “relatively Covid-secure”.
Professor Alan McNally, from the University of Birmingham, told Today: “I don’t think the time is right.
“I think the time was right to think about scaling up testing to the wider community and asymptomatic testing over the summer when we were relatively Covid-secure, knowing that autumn and winter would come.
“Ideally we would be far more advanced in our ability to handle what we’re already beginning to see, an increase in requirement for Covid testing and respiratory infection testing.”