Covid-19 Testing

Health and Social Care – in the House of Commons on 1st September 2020.

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Photo of Aaron Bell Aaron Bell Conservative, Newcastle-under-Lyme

What steps his Department is taking to increase covid-19 testing capacity.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of covid-19 test availability.

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We have developed capacity to over 200,000 antigen tests per day across the testing programme. We are planning for the next phase of testing and are committed to rapid and accessible testing at scale for everyone who needs one. Localisation of testing in accessible places is absolutely critical.

Photo of Aaron Bell Aaron Bell Conservative, Newcastle-under-Lyme

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. He may well be aware of the outbreak in my community of Newcastle-under-Lyme centred on Silverdale working men’s club. The outbreak appears to be under control. I praise his Department for its support, and also Staffordshire County Council. Close to 2,000 tests have been carried out, a number of those at the new local centre at Ryecroft. If I could make one suggestion based on our experience of this outbreak, it is that the online booking system needs to react more quickly to make spaces available. Spaces always have been available, but not always online. Will he comment on that?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the work he has put in over the summer to make sure that the challenges we have seen in Newcastle-under-Lyme are dealt with as well as possible. Of course, when we put in extra testing and extra mobile testing units, making sure that that is tied in with the online booking system is critical. I am very happy to work with him to resolve the specific issues in Newcastle.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

Alongside the need to increase capacity, there is a real need to make sure that what is already there is working properly. In Chesterfield, I have had many people contact me over the summer to say they have been waiting four or five days to get a test result back. I have also had people who have applied online and been told to go for testing 20 or 30 miles away, when there is a testing centre in Chesterfield. With Chris Hopson of the NHS Providers organisation saying that the current system is not even

“fit for purpose, much less world class”,

will the Secretary of State tell us what he can do to ensure that the system is ready when we approach the potential increase in cases in the autumn and winter?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Of course, we are constantly working to improve the system, but as the statistics that I read out at the start of this Question Time show, we have made very significant progress over the summer. NHS test and trace is just over three months old, and is now reaching 84% of contacts when contacts are given. On testing expansion, of course when a testing site is full, people will be directed to a nearby but not immediately close testing centre. That does sometimes happen when there is an increase in demand for testing, but we try to respond by putting in more testing where it is needed and in the highest-risk areas, of which, thankfully, Chesterfield is not one.