Matt Hancock condemned for disastrous interview on coronavirus testing by government scientist

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·4-min read
Health Secretary Matt Hancock delivers a speech on the future of the NHS at the Royal College of Physicians in central London.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock delivers a speech on the future of the NHS at the Royal College of Physicians in central London.

A government adviser on the coronavirus pandemic has hit out at Matt Hancock after he appeared to criticise the British public for getting too many tests.

The health secretary appeared on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday to answer questions about people being told they have to travel hundreds of miles to be tested for COVID-19.

While explaining the testing situation, Hancock said stories of people deciding to get a test before going on holiday were “not appropriate”.

But Professor Susan Michie, a participant on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and a member of Independent Sage, criticised Hancock for shifting the blame of problems with the testing system onto the public.

Michie, an open Labour supporter and frequent critic of the government, wrote on Twitter: “You just couldn’t make this up. Precisely what not to say in this situation.

“What is the point of having behavioural scientists advising Govt if their advice is ignored.”

Responding to reports of possible rationing of tests, Hancock said: "The testing system is there to control this epidemic and we’ve got to be firmer I’m afraid with the rules around eligibility for testing.

"We were able to be quite relaxed about that."

He added to Times Radio: "We're going to be clearer and stricter about the eligibility requirements for getting a test.”

Watch as Matt Hancock appears to blame people with no symptoms getting tests as the reason why the system is being strained

Responding to Hancock’s comments, Labour MP Jim McMahon tweeted: “Blaming people without symptoms, while highlighting key transmission risk group are young people.... *who often do not display symptoms*.”

Palliative doctor Rachel Clarke said: “First Boris Johnson tried to blame care homes for residents’ deaths. Now Matt Hancock is blaming the public for his failing test and trace service.

“Never admit. Never apologise. Never accept responsibility at all. What a government this is.”

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner added: “Now Matt Hancock is trying to blame people trying to get a test for his failure to deliver a functioning testing system.

“Same old Tories, their incompetence is always somebody else's fault.”

On Monday, Hancock said no one should have to travel more than 75 miles each way for a coronavirus test.

It comes after a BBC report last week found that people were being told to drive hundreds of miles for a test as tests were being rationed and sent to local lockdown areas.

Hancock told the Commons health committee this week that there had been "operational issues" and "a problem with a couple of contracts”.

He said: "It's a matter of a couple of weeks until we can get all of that sorted in the short term, in the immediate term.”

On Tuesday, Sarah-Jane Marsh – director of testing for NHS Test and Trace – apologised for a shortage of tests.

She tweeted: “All of our testing sites have capacity, which is why they don’t look overcrowded, its our laboratory processing that is the critical pinch-point. We are doing all we can to expand quickly.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Yahoo News last week that it was working on “expanding testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October”.

Watch - Yahoo UK’s Health reporter explains how coronavirus is treated

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