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The government could consider ways to give certain people priority access to coronavirus tests, Matt Hancock has said, as he faced criticism from fellow Conservative MPs about recent delays and disruption to the testing system.
Responding to a statement by Hancock in the Commons, the former minister Greg Clark told the health secretary that he needed to get a “personal grip” on testing before winter, after some of Clark’s Kent constituents were sent to Cornwall and Scotland for tests.
Hancock insisted the system was working well but said too many people without coronavirus symptoms were still seeking tests. To better channel demand, a new system of ranking people by priority could be introduced, he said.
He was asked by another Tory MP, Laura Farris, whether testing to keep schools open could be based on “an order of priority”, for example reserving the first tests for working parents and teachers.
Hancock said this was “a very good point”, adding: “The question is how to enforce the prioritisation without putting in place barriers that slow down access to tests for people that need them. And that’s something that we’re looking at now.”
Elsewhere in the exchanges, Hancock faced some scepticism over his insistence that the testing system was working well, and over the government’s “moonshot” proposal for mass-scale, near-instant tests to allow more normal living for those who are shown to be negative.
At one point, opposition MPs burst into laughter as Hancock explained how the system could work, prompting him to condemn what he called “naysayers”.
But after days of reports about people being unable to access tests or being sent hundreds of miles for one, several Tory MPs impressed on Hancock the need to improve the system.
Clark, who now chairs the Commons science committee, said Hancock “must admit that there is a problem”. He said: “This is in a mild September, before the autumn and winter when people have coughs and colds that may look like symptoms of Covid. It’s no good blaming people who are asymptomatic.
“I think this needs his personal grip. This is an urgent matter. It needs a grip before the autumn and winder bites.”
Another Conservative MP, Lucy Allan, complained to Hancock that there had been gridlock on the roads in her Telford constituency this week after hundreds of people were sent to the local testing centre from around the country.
She said: “Tests quickly ran out, roads were blocked, people who had travelled from as far away as Cornwall, Stockport and London were turned away, and my constituents were no longer able to access tests in the area.”
In his opening statement, Hancock accepted that the new social distancing measures coming into force from Monday, which limit almost all gatherings to no more than six people, would have a significant impact on the public.
“These are not measures that we take lightly,” he said. “I understand that for many they will mean changing long-awaited plans, or missing out on precious moments with loved ones. But this sacrifice is vital to control the virus for the long term and save lives.”
On testing, he urged people without symptoms not to seek tests. “As capacity has increased, we’ve seen an ever faster rise in demand, including a significant increase from people who do not have symptoms, and are not eligible for a test. This takes tests away from people who need them.”
The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said that while he supported the idea of mass testing, he was sceptical that it could be delivered given the current problems with far lower numbers.
“We are all fed up of big, undelivered promises and ‘world beaters’, he said. “Mass testing is too important to become another failed project. It’s all well and good talking about moonshots and the prime minister telling us all we’ll be tested every morning. Even better would be simply delivering the extra testing needed now, not just headline figures.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Covid test seekers may be ranked by priority, says Matt Hancock | Politics