Dean Russell, Conservative MP for Watford, has spoken to Vibe 107.6 FM about the difficulties facing the UK’s coronavirus testing system. Over the weekend, it was revealed there was a backlog of 185,000 testing swabs in laboratories, with some sent to centres in Germany and Italy for processing.
The system has come under pressure in recent weeks as people returned from holiday, and children went back to school. Community transmission of the virus is rising across the country, and the demand for tests continues to grow. Many struggle to book appointments on the government’s website, or are offered tests in locations miles from where they live. It appears there is also a shortage of slots available for NHS workers.
On Wednesday's Breakfast show, Dean Russell acknowledged the current situation was ‘a challenge,’ and fully ‘understood’ people’s concerns over testing. He revealed that only a ‘handful’ of Watford residents had contacted him, and said they were unable to get tested. Furthermore, Mr Russell explained how he and his team ‘literally’ went ‘onto the booking systems’ to help resolve the situation.
In regard to national testing levels, he stated the government ‘are doing everything they can to make sure’ the system ‘is back up and running.’
Mr Russell added:
“It’s not a case that the testing system is broken, and we haven’t got tests. It’s that the laboratories at the moment are just trying to churn through all the backlog of tests, because there was just an unprecedented rise.”
He explained one of the reasons for the current shortage was that a large number of people without symptoms, had booked tests 'en masse'. This was 'in quite a short period of time,' and individuals with Covid ‘symptoms' were then 'not able to get a test’. However, Mr Russell appreciated their reasons for getting tested, and ‘was not trying to blame them.’
In July Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, urged people with symptoms or doubts to ‘get a coronavirus test.’ He claimed it was ’the most important thing’ individuals could do, ‘to stop the spread of this virus’. Yet, the Health Secretary recently stated that around 25% of those tested were in fact ‘not eligible’.
When asked about people who come into contact with someone that has symptoms, and those with doubts wanting tests, Mr Russell said:
“The point at the moment is we’re saying to people especially if they're in doubt that they’ve been in contact with someone through the track and trace system. Where they’ve been alerted, that absolutely they should get a test.”
He went on to say the government were ‘not trying to stop people having tests.’ The ‘focus’ instead has to be on ‘those who have got symptoms.’
Reports have suggested the government is currently deliberating on whether to give GP’s authority over testing, and ultimately decide who is eligible. Mr Russell indicated he ‘would be very supportive’ of the move, should it be implemented.
“I think as we move forward, of course these models need to shift and change. From the GP’s I’ve spoken to and GP representatives, I think they would be happy to book tests and to be able to arrange them. At the moment it obviously sounds like that’s very much in discussion.”