Tory test-and-trace tsar Dido Harding admitted that there is “significantly more demand than capacity” for coronavirus tests on Thursday.
But she claimed to parliament’s science and technology committee that nobody “was expecting the sizeable increase in demand” in the weeks after schools and some offices reopened.
Harding said the demand for tests was three to four times higher than capacity. “Plainly we don’t have enough testing capacity today,” she said.
But Harding, a Tory peer and telecoms tycoon with no healthcare experience disgracefully denied that the test and trace system is failing.
She tried to pass the buck onto ordinary people seeking tests and scientific advisers, saying they’d “built capacity plans based on modelling” by the Sage scientists’ group.
Her appearance at the science committee came as Britain recorded 21 more coronavirus deaths and 3,395 more coronavirus cases.
Some people have been asked to travel hundreds of miles to do a test in recent weeks. Health secretary Matt Hancock claimed on Wednesday that “the average distance travelled to a test site is now just 5.8 miles”.
But this refers to people who made the journey—not the distances being offered to people on the test and trace website.
Those who make it to a testing site aren’t guaranteed a test.
Rob Reid, a 58 year old from Sunderland, had booked for a coronavirus test and travelled to the centre. When he got there, he found that there were no swabs available.
“My concern is about my health and it comes across that the government is not that concerned,” he told the PA news agency. “When they are taking bookings on the NHS website and there’s nobody here to do it.”
Another person seeking a test, Henry Bull, described “total pandemonium” at a centre in Lewisham, south east London. “I biked down there for about ten, 15 minutes before my appointment time and there was just absolute pandemonium, chaos,” he said.
“The entire junction is gridlocked with cars queuing to get into it, loads of car drivers getting out and shouting at each other to move out of the way.
“Meanwhile, once you actually get to the site, nobody has received the QR code that you have to have to get tested.”
He added it was, “A pretty horrible, stressful situation all round to be honest. Lots of very upset people, presumably several of whom have Covid as well so exposing a lot of us to infection.”
Henry and others left without being tested.
A functioning test and trace system is key to getting the virus under control and keeping people safe. But Harding said, “We have to think really hard about how we prioritise the use of these tests.
“We’re all going to have to play a part in managing the constrained capacity.”
The virus is so out of control that leading scientists have proposed a two-week lockdown across England next month.
Experts on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling have suggested a lockdown that could partly coincide with the October school half-term.
Another suggestion is to outsource the testing system to a delivery giant such as Amazon.
An invitation to bid for a contract covering the management of the entire supply chain will be issued next month, The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported.
But the chaos of test and trace flows precisely from Britain’s privatised test and trace system.
A leaked report to the Sunday Times newspaper last week said “chaos” in the supply chain meant most laboratories were working under capacity.
Tony Blair’s Labour governments helped pave the way for the lack of capacity through the break up of hospital pathology departments. And rather than invest into local public health authorities, the Tories handed out contracts to private firms such as Serco.