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BMA urges ‘grip’ on Covid testing as lab capacity falters

The BMA has urged to the Government to ‘get a grip’ on testing after patients and doctors have shared their frustrations at not being able to access Covid-19 tests.

It comes after the head of the coronavirus test and trace programme in England apologised on social media to people struggling to access the booking system for tests.

Some patients had reported being asked to travel hundreds of miles to access a test.

Sarah-Jane Marsh said the issue was not with capacity at testing sites but with laboratory processing.

She tweeted: ‘Can I please offer my heartfelt apologies to anyone who cannot get a Covid test at present.

‘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.’

Figures showed there were 2,948 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday following 2,988 announced on Sunday – the highest figure since 22 May.

Health secretary Matt Hancock was asked about problems with testing at a Health Select Committee hearing on Tuesday and said there had been operational issues with a couple of contracts but they would be resolved in the next couple of weeks.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: ‘The admission from Test and Trace’s own director of testing that lab capacity is at “critical pinch point” underlines the urgent need for the Government to get a grip on the testing system that is clearly not delivering.

‘In recent days we’ve heard concerning reports from doctors that they or their patients are unable to access tests and follow-up results at what is a critical time in the fight against Covid-19.

‘These doctors are themselves frustrated but equally concerned for patients who are contacting them unsure of what to do.’

He added that against a backdrop in rising cases and warnings for the public not to be complacent a failure in testing strategy completely undermines any attempt to bring the infection rate down.

‘Meanwhile, we’re told there is capacity at local test sites, begging the question why people have recently been sent long distances from home to get tested.

‘If this is a strategy to reduce demand to meet overall lab capacity, it is completely unacceptable and disproportionately impacts people from lower income backgrounds who can ill afford to travel such distances.’

Dr Nagpaul called on the Government to issue an urgent update on how it plans to address this failure ‘that seriously threatens England’s ability to reduce the spread of this deadly virus’.

In a speech to Parliament Mr Hancock said the target to provide testing kits to all care homes for older people and people with dementia had now been met.

‘Over the past six months we’ve built the biggest testing system of any major European country, and one of the biggest testing systems in the world.

‘But I will not rest.

‘We are working flat out to expand our testing capacity even further.’

It comes as NHS Test and Trace failed to reach almost 10,000 identified contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in the last week for which data was published.

Last week’s data release showed that in the week of 20-26 August, just 69.4% of 31,388 contacts were reached – a drop from 77.1% in the previous week.