Virus test shortages harming health system, say United Kingdom hospitals

Henrietta Brewer
September 16, 2020

"There are operational challenges and we're working hard to fix them", Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament.

On Tuesday evening Bolton NHS Foundation Trust said a "high volume of patients" had turned up at accident and emergency asking for a coronavirus test.

Speaking to the House of Commons on Tuesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged that the United Kingdom testing system was facing "operational challenges". "That is a real problem".

"We have seen a sharp rise in people coming forward for a test, including those who are not eligible", Mr Hancock said. But he faced a litany of complaints from lawmakers of all parties, furious that their constituents were unable to get the tests they need.

"But as demand has risen, so we are having to prioritise once again, and I do not shirk from decisions about prioritisation".

Hospital operators in the United Kingdom say the unavailability of Covid-19 tests is jeopardising healthcare services as patients can not be treated before they were tested.

Acute clinical care is the top priority, with social care next on the list and now receiving more than 100,000 tests a day.

But Labour's shadow health secretary Mr Ashworth said Mr Hancock was "losing control of this virus".


Mr Hopson said the funds need to know more details so they can plan accordingly, for example by setting up their test facilities.

Britain's testing system for COVID-19 was creaking on Tuesday as a bottleneck prevented people including medics from getting a test, with the government saying it may take weeks to resolve the problem.

Hospital directors have repeatedly argued that the current lack in testing availability has led to more frequent absences among staff, which hinders the efforts of the crisis-hit NHS to recover.

He told the Commons: "Everyone in this House knows that we're doing more testing per head of population than nearly any other major nation, and I can update the House that we have now carried out over 20 million tests for coronavirus in this country".

"We have now got cases where patients who should be being treated, we can't treat them because they can't get access to a test", Hopson said.

But he acknowledged the virus was spreading, both in the United Kingdom and around the world.

A No 10 spokesman said: "Our capacity continues to be targeted to where it is most needed, which is why booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for people with symptoms".

The shortage comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the United Kingdom that has pushed daily positive tests to levels last seen in late May and forced the government to impose new controls on public gatherings. But the estimated cost for the program almost matches the whole NHS budget, Dr. Chaand Nagpaul says in a speech he plans to deliver Tuesday to the annual meeting of the doctor's union.


Experts had called for tests to be rationed, and complained that capacity had not expanded to meet the expected rise in demand as schools reopened and people returned to workplaces - as the Government has urged in England. We're aware of a small number of examples of patients being unable to get such tests, which cuts across trusts' ability to restore services in the way they have been asked to do.

"I think what's going wrong is the second wave", Bell told the BBC.

"So extra demand on the system was inevitable, so why didn't he use the summer to significantly expand NHS lab capacity and fix contact tracing?"

It comes after widespread reports of people struggling to get tested, with hospital bosses warning that a lack of tests for NHS workers was putting services at risk.

He added that there are further concerns over patients being tested prior to treatment.

NHS Providers said a lack of testing also hindered preparations for winter, as hospitals could become more crowded due to Covid-19 and seasonal flu.

As a result of rising cases, the country could be in for a tough six months, they added.


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