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Covid test shortages set to last for weeks, Matt Hancock admits

The shortage of coronavirus test slots hitting outbreak hotspots across the UK is likely to last for “weeks” the Health Secretary has admitted.

Matt Hancock was responding to an urgent question in parliament on Tuesday, amid reports of people are being told to travel to the other side of the country to get checked, or that no test is available at all.

Asked by chair of the health select committee Jeremy Hunt whether he was still confident that the problem could be solved next week, Mr Hancock replied: “I think we will be able to solve this problem in a matter of weeks … we are managing to deliver record capacity, but as he well knows demand is also high”.

MP after MP stood up in the debate to warn the government that people in their local area had been unable to get tested. Sarah Owen, MP for Luton North, said: “We’ve heard case after case of failure when it comes to testing.

“I’ve heard from parents, teachers, a vicar in Luton North all saying there are no walk-in tests, no drive-through tests, and no home kits available when they need it. The secretary of state talks about capacity but what we need to see is access to testing. Capacity is nothing without access to testing.”

Mr Hancock claimed that “the vast majority of people do” get tested.

The backlog is thought to have been caused by a shortage of laboratory processing capacity for tests, which authorities say has created a “critical pinch-point” in the system. The failure has seen tests sent abroad to be processed, despite claims from the government that its system would be “world-beating”.

In mid-August Mr Hancock had promised “mass testing, population-wide testing” would come to the UK, but offered no timeframe. 

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