inisters came under growing pressure today to “fix” the test-and-trace system which is still leaving people having to wait more than three days for Covid-19 results.
Senior Conservatives appealed for urgent action and a disease expert stressed the shake-up had to “come absolutely from the top”.
With England in lockdown, Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the Commons health committee, said: “The Government must use this breathing space to get a grip on the test-and-trace programme that is currently the only way to lock down the virus instead of the whole country. It’s become clear that people are much more likely to self-isolate if they’re contacted by someone from their local authority rather than a national call centre.”
Sir Bernard Jenkin, who heads the Commons liaison committee, added: “If we want to reopen the economy, and to avoid the damaging cycle of repeated lockdown, we need Japan-style test and trace capability in the UK.
“This requires the urgent addition of local tracing to support the national effort.”
Four ex-prime ministers, David Cameron, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Sir John Major, have urged Boris Johnson to throw the “full weight of the British state” behind testing. “It needs to come absolutely from the top,” said Dr Gabriel Scally, president of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine and a member of the independent Sage group.
“The Prime Minister has to act decisively today to rebuild a proper, functioning and effective test-and-trace system.”
Baroness Harding, chairwoman of NHS Test and Trace, stressed the system was trying to “react as fast as we possibly can” when there is an increased demand for testing. “We now have more capacity than demand, we went live last week with GPs across the country now able to order tests as well, so we’re continuing to make it easier and easier for people to access testing,” she told MPs yesterday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said testing capacity is “the largest in Europe”, twice-weekly tests will be rolled out to NHS workers, and he has written to more than 60 local authorities, including several London boroughs, about mass testing of “10 per cent of their population per week”.
But shadow health minister Rosena Allin-Khan stressed: “The Prime Minister must use this time to prioritise fixing test-and-trace once and for all — he cannot allow himself to get distracted.”
Dr Billy Palmer, senior fellow at health think tank the Nuffield Trust, said: “We have got a testing capacity which is overstated and contact tracing which is leaky.”