Coronavirus testing: 'Health minister should get a grip'

Taking a swab at testing centre

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On Friday tests in Wales were capped after increased demand saw UK-wide issues

Wales’ health minister should “get a grip” on coronavirus testing, a Plaid Cymru member of the Senedd (MS) and GP has said.

People trying to get tests have spoken of their frustration over the length of time to book and distance to travel.

South Wales West MS Dr Dai Lloyd said Vaughan Gething had “opted into this UK system” so “can’t say ‘it’s not my fault, it is all down to UK’.”

Mr Gething has described UK lab issues as “unacceptable”.

He told Claire Summers on BBC Radio Wales: “It is a point of real frustration for people across Wales and indeed other parts of the UK.”

He said there would be up to five extra mobile testing units this week to deal with hotspots, additional lanes at drive-through centres and there were plans to run tests through Public Health Wales laboratories.

He said he and the Scottish health minister had jointly written a letter to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock asking for an urgent discussion about how quickly issues would be resolved.

‘It’s someone else’s fault’

Dr Lloyd, who is chair of the Senedd’s health committee, suggested a system where people book a Covid test through their GP rather than online.

He told BBC Radio Wales he was “extremely concerned because we seem to seeing a resurgence now of the virus”.

“We’re running out of testing kits in a situation that is run by private companies that have no link to the NHS,” he said.

When asked if GPs would be better running the system he said: “I think so, basically… as a public service, you have an issue, you go and see your GP, she or he sorts out the test, he or she sorts out the result and sorts you out.

“We’ve fragmented the system now and there’s lots of people involved.”

He added: “It’s a very complicated new private system overlaid on top of our usual NHS provision…

“Its impossible as opposition politicians to scrutinise exactly what’s going on because everyone says it’s someone else’s fault.”

What’s been going wrong?

The UK government’s testing system – part of its test, track and trace operation which Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised would be “world-beating” – has faced criticism in recent weeks.

A surge in demand for coronavirus tests has led to local shortages, with many people reporting problems with getting online bookings and being directed to test sites hundreds of miles from their homes.

On Monday, one testing site in Abercynon, Rhondda Cynon Taff, reportedly ran out of kits.

An official at the site told BBC Wales it had closed for a few hours while they fetched more tests from Swansea.

The large Lighthouse laboratories run by the government to analyse test swabs from all the UK nations have been under strain to process them all.

There seem to be enough testing sites but there are bottlenecks in the labs for processing the swabs and that is why test slots are limited, BBC health editor Hugh Pym said.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “The problems people have been experiencing when trying to book a test are directly related to the ongoing UK-wide issues with the Lighthouse Lab system, which we urgently need to see resolved at a UK level.

“The health minister [in Wales] has repeatedly raised this with the [UK government’s] secretary of state for health.

“We are moving as much NHS Wales testing capacity as we can into areas where testing is needed the most, as well as taking urgent action to switch over testing facilities to Welsh laboratories to further increase capacity while the UK government resolves these issues with the Lighthouse Lab system.”

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