A director of the government testing and tracing program in England has issued a “sincere” apology for the problems with the coronavirus testing system.
In a tweet, Sarah-Jane Marsh explained that it was the labs, not the testing sites themselves, that were the “tipping point”.
It comes as scientists have sounded the alarm bells on the rise in coronavirus cases.
A new Lighthouse laboratory is expected to open in Loughborough in about two weeks.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there had been “an issue with a few contracts” that would take a few weeks to “fix in the short term”.
But he said he had “some solutions already in place” to make sure people don’t have to travel more than 75 miles for a test.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said the testing program was “on the verge of collapse”.
Ms Marsh works as an assistant to Dido Harding, heading the “test” element of the test and trace program.
The program aims to find cases of the coronavirus through testing and, once confirmed, to trace their contacts and tell them to self-isolate, in order to contain the virus.
Some people with symptoms have struggled to access tests in recent days, leading to concerns that these efforts may be hampered.
“All of our test sites have capacity, which is why they don’t seem overcrowded,” Ms. Marsh explained.
Instead, appointments were restricted due to a blockage in processing capacity in the labs.
‘Hit at full capacity’
Carly in Manchester remained “angry and disappointed” after trying to book an exam for her seven-year-old son, who had a fever and cough.
“I tried 30 or 40 times before I could pass, then I was told there was no appointment.
“At every moment, I was told that everywhere was at full capacity. ”
But when she did manage to secure a place in a testing center at Manchester Airport, she says there was “absolutely no one there”.
Some found that the option of requesting a home kit was not available, only to be offered a test drive appointment more than 100 miles from their home.
Rachel from Cardiff was directed to Dundee, more than 500 miles away, when she tried to request a test for her two sons, who had developed bad colds, including symptoms she feared to be coronavirus .
She was not given the opportunity to take a home test.
Gavin on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland was headed over 450 miles from Portadown in Northern Ireland.
Speaking to the BBC, Sir Keir described “heartbreaking stories” of people who failed to pass a test, found the website “down” or were “asked to walk miles and miles. kilometers to take a test ”.
“No one can claim that this is good governance,” he said.
He also said the prime minister should “take responsibility” for problems with the system and encouraged him to “continue” to hold a press conference on the coronavirus.
But the Department of Health and Welfare insisted that NHS Test and Trace was “working” – with “highest capacity ever” and laboratories processing more than a million tests per week.
A spokeswoman said there was “significant demand” for testing, but new slots and home testing kits were “made available on a daily basis.”
“We’re targeting testing capacity in areas that need it most, including those with an outbreak, as well as prioritizing groups at risk – and we recently announced new lab facilities and new technology.” to process the results even faster, ”she said. .
Last week, the BBC revealed that the government was reducing the number of tests available in parts of the country in order to make enough available where there were outbreaks.
Following this, Mr Hancock promised that no one would have to travel more than 75 miles for a test drive starting Friday, September 4.
He told the BBC that there had been “operational challenges”.
In Parliament on Tuesday, he said: “I understand 75 miles is way longer than what you would like to go and the vast majority of tests are much closer than that. ”
It has been suggested that part of the reduced capacity is due to the reopening of schools in Scotland, resulting in additional demand for testing.
It could get worse with the start of the term for UK children.
Ms Marsh went on to tweet that additional labs are due to open “shortly,” alongside an expansion of non-lab-based tests such as the two rapid test kits which were rolled out to hospitals from early this month. ‘August.
In an August 28 letter to Hancock seen by the BBC, the chairmen of the South East Strategic Coordination Groups tasked with responding to emergencies called the government’s approach “myopic and flawed.”
The group of presidents representing the South East, the UK’s most populous region, said it understood that testing sites were facing “increasing demand and laboratory capacities have been adapted to areas where levels of current prevalence is high ”.
The South East is currently a relatively low prevalence area.
But they said it would “hamper” their vision of infection rates in their communities and result in “lack of warning when infections increase in our areas.”
They called for “clear, honest and ongoing communication” on the current state and prioritization of testing capabilities.
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