Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 4:10 pm, 18th November 2020

I am going to push on a little bit and then I will give way again.

This enormous national effort has put our country on a strong footing for today and years to come. We are using the best of British ingenuity to help us to deliver in this area. Progress has also been seen in other areas. As the pandemic unfolded, the UK could not call on a major diagnostic industry. From a standing start of about 2,000 tests a day in March, our capacity is now over half a million tests per day. This matters, because it has often been said in this place that in order to beat the virus we need to draw on different parts of our armoury to help to get us through. Testing works. It helps to deny the virus the connections it needs to spread. Mass testing therefore offers us a chance to achieve that on a much bigger scale. We are making progress in city-wide testing in Liverpool. I thank Joe Anderson for his leadership in helping to deliver not only in testing but in other areas too. We are also rolling out a further localised approach to other areas with the help of directors of public health, among others, who know their local areas. Some 83 local authorities have now signed up to receive regular batches of lateral flow tests, which allow for a result to be seen in 15 minutes.

Further, I know that hon. Members will celebrate Monday’s announcement of two mega-labs coming on stream early next year—very high-throughput laboratories, one in the midlands and one in Scotland, adding a further capacity of some 600,000 tests per day. These are massive gains that we are achieving by embracing cutting-edge technology such as automation and robotics and harnessing the best of British industry and academia, meaning that we will not only be able to process more tests but that they can be processed quicker and at a lower cost. The mega-labs will be another powerful weapon in our defence against this deadly virus in order to get back to a more normal way of life, but more than that, they will form a permanent part of the country’s new diagnostic industry. They can help us to respond in the future and build further resilience.

I am excited at the potential for a new diagnostic industry to help to care and deliver across other disease types, not least cancer. Hon. Members will know that, informed in large part by my own experience, I was an advocate of improved cancer outcomes long before I came to this place or took on this role. Early diagnosis is the key to beating the disease, and with bold steps forward in diagnostics, I would like it to make it my mission—I am sure with many others across the House—that we seize new opportunities in cancer services so that covid-19 is not a derailer but an opportunity for a new phase in smarter, faster diagnostics.