Matt Hancock says COVID test issues will take 'weeks' to fix as MPs accuse government of 'fiasco'

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
Matt Hancock said the coronavirus testing issues will take 'weeks' to solve. (Parliamentlive.tv)
Matt Hancock said the coronavirus testing issues will take 'weeks' to solve. (Parliamentlive.tv)

The government has admitted its coronavirus testing issues will take “weeks” to solve.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has been accused of presiding over a “fiasco” amid signs of massive strain on the testing system.

Issues 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.

It has meant suspected COVID-19 patients with acute medical needs, as well as people in care homes, will now be prioritised under plans to ration tests.

Watch: Matt Hancock admits there are "challenges" with the coronavirus testing system

Hancock was summoned to the House of Commons on Tuesday to answer an urgent question on the situation.

He was invited by his predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, to assure the testing problems would be solved in a week’s time.

However, Hancock would only say: “We will be able to solve this problem in a matter of weeks.

“In [Hunt’s] own constituency yesterday 194 people got their tests. So we are managing to deliver record capacity but as he well knows, demand is also high and the response to that is to make sure we have prioritisation, so that the people who most need it can get tests that they need.”

People queue to enter an NHS COVID-19 walk-in testing centre in Bolton, northern England on September 9, 2020, as local lockdown restrictions are put in place due to a spike in cases of the novel coronavirus in the city. - The UK government, which controls health policy in England, imposed tougher restrictions on Bolton, near the northwest city of Manchester, after a "very significant rise" in cases. Bolton was found to have 120 cases per 100,000 people -- the highest in the country. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
People queuing for a walk-in testing centre in Bolton last week. (AFP via Getty Images)

Among the examples MPs fired at Hancock were:

  • No tests available in COVID hotspots such as Rochdale, Pendle and Bradford

  • A mobile testing centre failing to turn up in Bolton, which has the highest infection rate in England

  • Hundreds queuing for five hours for a test in Bury

  • People in Farnham asked to travel to Bristol, 96 miles away, for a test

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth accused Hancock of “losing control of this virus” as he said: “People want to know when they will get a test and when this mess will be fixed.

“Today there will be thousands of ill people trying to book a test only to be told none are available.

“When will ill people no longer have to travel hundreds of miles for a test that should be available on their doorstep?”

Hancock, who has been accused by Labour MPs of overseeing a “complete fiasco” and “shambles”, countered: “When you have a free service, it’s inevitable that demand rises. The challenge is to make sure we prioritise the tests we have as a nation to those who most need it.”

He also claimed the average distance travelled to a test site is now 5.8 miles, down from 6.4 miles last week.

Figures on Monday showed 2,621 confirmed new infections, with Hancock acknowledging “the epidemic is growing”.

Watch: What are the current UK government guidelines on face coverings within schools?

On Monday, the government’s “rule of six” coronavirus law came into force, banning most social gatherings of more than six people in England.

However, confusion continued to reign on Tuesday over the ban on “mingling”, with home secretary Priti Patel accused of not understanding her own laws by a human rights barrister after she “wrongly” said two families of four stopping for a chat on the way to the park constituted illegal “mingling”.

Meanwhile, a top officer told Good Morning Britain that officers were still unsure how to uphold the new law, which bans any social gatherings of over six people.

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