Testing problems to last for ‘weeks’ as MP calls for new site in Norfolk
- Credit: Mike Page
The health secretary has admitted problems getting coronavirus tests will last for “weeks”, as an MP called for a new drive-through site to be set up in Norfolk.
Another Norfolk MP said today he was being contacted daily by people unable to book a test.
The problems began last week with a rise in demand for tests caused by children returning to school.
Some people have been told to travel hundreds of miles to get tested or have been unable to book a slot at all.
In response, health secretary Matt Hancock said tests would start to be prioritised for the sickest patients and people in care homes.
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He admitted there were “operational challenges” but told MPs in the House of Commons on Tuesday that the average distance travelled to a test site is now 5.8 miles, down from 6.4 miles last week.
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North West Norfolk MP James Wild asked Mr Hancock if a testing centre could be set up in King’s Lynn.
Mr Hancock said he would “look at” Mr Wild’s request and praised Norfolk County Council for containing the outbreak at Banham Poultry.
Meanwhile, North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker told this newspaper he was getting daily emails from constituents who were unable to book a test. “This is causing a great deal of distress,” he said.
In a letter to Mr Hancock, he called for “rapid improvements” to the system so people could be tested locally when they needed it.
The backlog is thought to have been caused by a lack of lab capacity, rather than a lack of testing sites.
Waveney MP Peter Aldous warned that schools would face problems staying open if the testing system did not improve.
He said: “Schools have not been provided with the testing kits that they were promised and some of the advice provided on the information has been contradictory and confusing.
“This situation needs to be resolved very quickly, otherwise schools which have adapted very well to an extremely challenging situation may have difficulty in remaining open.”
That warning was echoed by a Norfolk headteacher yesterday who said schools needed access to “immediate” tests and results back within 24 hours.
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said: “A small number of people have got in touch with me, who have found it hard to get a test slot. This is very important right now, across so many walks of life. I’m working with the local health authorities to support them in every way possible to resolve this and will raise it nationally if it can’t be sorted practically in Norfolk.”
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said: “Access to testing is vital to avoid more damaging lockdowns.
“Our local Norfolk public health led the way in local testing and only a small number of constituents have reported problems with being offered tests over 100 miles away, which I have raised with ministers and officials.”
Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis would not comment specifically on testing but said: “I am in regular contact with ministerial colleagues in relation to all aspects of the Government’s response to coronavirus.”
We have also contacted MPs Richard Bacon, Jerome Mayhew and Elizabeth Truss for comment.
Meanwhile, NHS trusts have responded to the problems by setting up their own testing facilities to get staff back to work.
The Norfolk Community Health and Care Trust began testing staff and their families from Monday.
Paul Cracknell, deputy chief executive at NCH&C, said: “This will help our staff to return to work quickly, safe in the knowledge that they are not putting their patients, those they care for, or their colleagues at risk and ultimately help to keep our services running.”
The James Paget University Hospital, Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital all said they had their own testing for staff.
NHS Providers, which represents NHS trust leaders, said hospitals across the country were worried about a lack of tests available for NHS staff.
In Norwich, a frontline worker at the East of England Ambulance Trust, said she was missing work this week with a cough because she had been unable to book a test.
“The situation is dire,” she said. “NHS workers should have priority access to tests.”