Track and trace has failed at its first real test, says Bedford MP

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Mohammad Yasin MP
Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford and Kempston Pic credit: Chris McAndrew

“We will have a test track and trace operation that will be world-beating, in place by 1 June” promised the Prime Minister on 20 May.

Four months on, the system is failing its first real test and appears to be on the brink of collapse. Just a week or so after the new school term started, when it was obvious seasonal cold and flu symptoms would mirror those of Covid-19, the system isn’t coping with the inevitable rise in demand for tests.

Up and down the country a growing number of people, including frontline workers who are supposed to be prioritised, are unable to access Covid-19 drive in tests, walk in tests and home test kits.

Not because there is a problem at the testing sites but because the labs to process the results are overwhelmed.

Bedford residents are telling me they are finding it very difficult to get a Covid test or are being asked to travel miles away to access one.

It’s been clear for months that we had to capitalise on the gains we’d made on infection rates after lockdown over the summer and to ensure not just testing capacity, but crucially lab capacity, were massively increased to enable us to return to a more normal way of life.

It was the lynch pin that would allow us to go back to work or an educational setting safely.

But the Government has blown it!

£12 million wasted on a Government test and trace app that never materialised, only to be replaced by the Apple/Google app, still not launched, that experts advised the Government should have used in the first place.

And following the Urgent Question this week raised by the Shadow Health Secretary, it would appear the Government are still no closer to a solution after saying the problems will take weeks to resolve.

Matt Hancock has blamed problems with the testing system on too many people booking tests, after months of telling us “if in doubt, get a test”.

Now we have a backlog of around 180,000 tests waiting for analysis – some being sent to labs abroad and test results too often falling way short of the 24 hours return time promised by the Government.

The impact of this is huge.

Today, countless people with symptoms who are not able to get a test – or unable to drive 100s miles to do so – are sat at home missing out on education, pay or getting back to work, which is so important in getting our economy back on track.

Worse still, some parents feel they have no other choice but to send kids into school who may be ill, and other adults are going into work with symptoms, because they can’t afford not to, risking the further spread of Covid-19, and potentially leading to avoidable school and workplace closures.

As we face the prospect of a second wave, it’s unbelievable that the Government’s lack of preparedness once again leaves us so unprotected and under-prepared for what’s to come.

Despite what the Health Secretary says, we still haven’t got routine testing for health workers, care workers, and frontline workers in place across the country. And they are supposed to be a priority!

When challenged on the basics, the Prime Minister bamboozles us with data showing how great they are and what magic number of testing capacity they are going to achieve at some point in the future.

Last week Boris Johnson’s government offered grand plans for “Operation Moonshot”, an eye-watering £100bn project which it claims can beat the pandemic, with mass testing technology which has not yet been invented.

Rather than having their head in the stars, the Prime Minister might want to pay attention to what’s happening on the ground.

We don’t need the track and trace system to be world-beating, or endless promises of ‘jam tomorrow’, we just need a test, track and isolate system that works.

And that means, detailed, steady and unshowy work based on tried and tested public health methods that ought to be delivered by properly funded local public health teams rather than relying on fantasy technology and private Laboratories that aren’t coping and seeking help from the NHS.

This may not dazzle in a Government press release, but it does have the advantage of working.

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