At a press briefing, Matt Hancock said [BBC] [Youtube]: “The reason that the figures on the number of tests done have been flat over the last couple of days has been because of not enough demand, rather than not enough capacity.” At the time of the briefing capacity was around 35,000 but tests were still at less than 16,000. Hancock’s implication was that this gap was partly due to lower demand over the Bank Holiday.
However, Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) president Allan Wilson told the Independent that it was not demand but a lack of kits and reagents that were the issue.
He said: “The 17,000 NHS laboratory workers that I represent are increasingly expressing their frustration.”
“They have applied themselves innovatively to increase Covid-19 testing capacity and have the platforms ready so that the NHS laboratories are able to meet the secretary of state’s ambitious target, but they are still not able to source the testing kits and reagents they require.”
The government was under pressure to test NHS staff after it was revealed at the start of the month that only 2,000 staff had been tested, less than 1%.
On 24 April, the government’s much-lauded coronavirus testing website for essential workers ran out of capacity and had to be “closed” within minutes of opening on Friday morning.
Demand for testing was incredibly high not just at the time of Hancock’s statement but also in the weeks that followed.
A later report by the House of Commons Health and Social Care, and Science and Technology Committees discussed the effects of not having access to testing when discharging care home patients from hospital “The most damaging way in which the prioritisation of the NHS over social care manifested itself during the first wave of the pandemic was in the rapid discharge of people from hospital to care homes without adequate testing. In order to free acute hospital beds in anticipation of the first wave of the pandemic, NHS providers were instructed to urgently discharge all medically fit patients as soon as it was clinically safe to do so, and care home residents were not tested on their discharge from hospital. Around 25,000 people were discharged from hospitals into care homes between 17 March and 15 April 2020”
Matt Hancock’s comment was made in good faith, but there were plenty of people at the time who needed tests and didn’t get one.
When we asked Matt Hancock to respond to the claims laid out in this website, a spokesperson said: “This list is false, wildly inaccurate, and in some cases possibly even defamatory. For example claiming that some of Matt's claims in the Commons were in defiance of the ministerial code, when they were in fact accurate. The priority throughout this unprecedented pandemic has been saving lives.”