Over the last week I have been contacted by constituents from across South East Cambridgeshire who have expressed their concern and frustrations about not being able to book a Covid-19 test.
Our ability to test and trace on a large scale is fundamental to controlling the virus. The latest data shows that we are doing more testing per head than other European countries. For every 1,000 people in this country, we test 2.43 a day; that compares with Germany at 1.15, Spain at one and France at 1.15. The Government has increased capacity by more than 10,000 tests a day over the last fortnight and I am pleased that most people get their tests rapidly and close to home. There are already more than 400 testing sites in operation, with 19 added last week and 17 more planned to open this week.
However, I recognise that this is not the experience for the many people who have contacted me. I know that people have become frustrated when they arrive at the testing centre at Milton Park & Ride and see no queues despite being told there are no available slots when they try and book online. However, currently laboratories across the UK are struggling to process all the samples they are being sent, which is limiting the number of appointments available at testing centres. As such, the laboratories, not the testing sites themselves have now reached a critical pinch-point. It is therefore right for the Government to recognise this, and I am pleased that it is targeting to increase testing capacity to 500,000 a day by the end of October. A new lab in Leicestershire, which will process around 50,000 antigen tests a day will open in the next few weeks, and a new lab has recently opened at Newport.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to place a real strain on the UK’s health system, and the Government has spent time, effort and money securing the NHS test and trace system. However, with children rightly returning to school, we have seen a large increase in the number of children being sent to testing centres, which has put enormous pressure on the system.
In addition, estimates are that between 20% and 25% of those turning up for a test are currently asymptomatic. As the Prime Minister recently set out it is of course the Government’s ambition to move to a system of mass asymptomatic testing so that people can return more closely to their lives pre Covid-19 pandemic. However, we are not there yet and building the system is going to take time.
Generic asymptomatic testing is not supported by the current system and as such people should only get a test if they have coronavirus symptoms (a high temperature; a new, continuous cough; and/or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste) or have been asked to get tested. This will help make sure people who need a test can get one. More information about this and accessing a test can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test
If you’ve not been able to book a coronavirus test, or not been offered a convenient location or time, the current advice is to wait a few hours and try again and to continue to self-isolate if you have symptoms of Covid-19.
In recent days I have also been contacted by constituents who have sought to get a test through the system because they are travelling abroad. Precautionary tests such as these should not be requested as they are not currently available on the NHS.
I and my team remain in constant dialogue with local leaders and healthcare providers across South East Cambridgeshire to discuss what further steps could be done to help the situation locally. In the meantime, I will continue to raise your concerns with Ministers who I know are working hard to get this issue resolved as soon as possible. I have written to the Department for Health and Social Care setting out the issues my constituents have experienced locally, and the need for further support so that more people can access testing in our area. At this time, I understand Government is looking into priority testing to help cope with demand, I will continue to keep you updated on developments.
We are at a critical juncture in our response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with all schools across the region now open and Cambridge University students returning to education, opportunities for social interaction are inevitably going to increase. We must all remain vigilant to the threat of Covid-19. We also need to continue to build our testing system so that is fit for purpose and can cope with demand. We all have a part to play in this.