Covid tests need to be rationed, Matt Hancock admitted yesterday.
In a humiliating ascent, he said a "priority list" would ensure that nursing homes, hospitals, schools and key staff have enough.
In a hot session in the lower house, the health minister also had to admit that the current critical bottlenecks could drag on for weeks.
The public had been asked to carry out tests when in doubt. However, upon checking through the mail, it found that 46 of the 49 virus hotspots – including Bolton, Bradford and Oldham – had no swabs to offer.
Preston, one of the three areas Tests revealed they weren't available until January – and 22 miles away.
According to ITV's Robert Peston, Hancock is considering making GPs “gatekeepers” to the system. This would mean that patients would only get a test if they said so. Peston also reported that if the rule of six did not flatten the pandemic curve within two weeks, further lockdown measures would be in place.
There were long queues outside the test centers yesterday, with many desperate people who had not been given an online appointment but showed up anyway.
A woman uses an umbrella to protect herself from the sun while she waits for a coronavirus test outside a community center in Bury
Heath Secretary Matt Hancock speaks at the House of Commons, London
A health care worker was one of around 150 employees outside a walk-through center in Bury, where infection rates have reached an alarming 77.5 per 100,000 residents.
She shaded herself with an umbrella where the staff said they were "overwhelmed".
Lines also formed in Birmingham and Southend – but in a sign of general chaos – other test centers were almost empty. Concern about the government's seven “lighthouse laboratories” and their ability to process results grew due to shortages of staff and equipment.
One MP said her constituents in Twickenham, south-west London, had been asked to travel to Aberdeen to book a test.
Munira Wilson, Lib Dem health spokesperson, said: "We have been promised the world's best testing and traceability system, but what we have right now is a complete mess."
Ministers had already faced a crisis in the first wave of Covid when a campaign by the Mail led to Mr Hancock pledging to run 100,000 tests a day.
That pledge was later raised to 200,000 as part of the ambitious Operation Moonshot, then to 500,000 by the end of October, and now to four million by February next.
However, the system has been thrown into chaos again in the past few days as the demand for tests has grown massively and overwhelmed the laboratories.
Employees guide vehicles into a coronavirus testing center in Gloucester
The increase is due to an increase in daily cases, the return of schools, the introduction of regular swabs in nursing homes, and an increase in outbreaks.
As a result, there has been a flurry of complaints that local people cannot access tests or that they have to wait too long to find out if they are positive or negative. Schools have closed while teachers await results from sick students.
NHS leaders warn of a crisis in hospitals that will force medics to stay away from work and abandon operations.
Yesterday's numbers showed there were 227,075 tests taken across the UK in the past 24 hours – but that was a decrease from 231,969 on Monday and 250,839 on Sunday.
Mr Hancock was called into the House of Commons yesterday to answer an urgent Labor question on the fiasco. When asked if the problem would be resolved this week, he replied, "I think we will be able to resolve this problem in a few weeks."
Last night, former Health Secretary Ken Clarke accused ministers of "irritating" and "disillusioning" the public by making impossible promises for tests.
Citing testing issues, Commons spokesman Lindsay Hoyle said, "This is totally unacceptable and undermining the lead. So I have raised my concerns to ministers to urge urgent action."
Dr. Layla McCay of the NHS Confederation, which represents health organizations, said, “Our members tell us that lack of access to testing for employees is a major barrier to service delivery and achievement of service recovery goals.
“We seem light years away from the world's best test-and-trace system that we were promised. Every week we wait for these issues to be resolved is a week some NHS workers are unable to go to work and a week that makes it harder to identify and contain Covid-19 surges. & # 39;
Mr. Hancock is preparing to publish a “priority list” over the next few days that will be used as a set of rules for testing centers to determine who will be offered a swab.
This was the queue at the Southend Covend test site at 8 a.m. when hundreds of people tried to get a test
Currently, in theory, one should be offered to everyone, regardless of whether they are a key worker or even have symptoms.
However, the list makes it clear to the centers that if there is a bottleneck in testing capacity, priority will be given to NHS and nursing home staff, patients, key workers and students. All others are denied a test until the capacity is increased.
The ministers also plan to open two huge lighthouse laboratories to process the test results. Seven are in operation – in Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Newport, Glasgow, Alderley Park in Cheshire, Loughborough in Leicestershire and Antrim in Northern Ireland. The surge in demand was mainly driven by schools declining as children spread coughs and colds. Concerned parents book the whole family for tests to avoid long self-isolation.
The rise in virus cases has raised public concern and ministers have claimed that people book tests before going on vacation even though they have no symptoms. At the same time, experts believe that testing capacity has been affected by a shortage of equipment and staff, including doctoral students who have returned to university.
Last night, a leaked memo from The Guardian claimed that the lighthouse labs were at full capacity even in late August.How – page 20
The workers sit around in an almost empty Covid test center. Covid-19 Test Center in Milton Park and Drive Cambridge
Six months later … but just as clueless
Analysis by BEN SPENCER
Doctors have to stay away from work because they cannot get a test. Ask university researchers to process a huge backlog of swabs.
Sound familiar? These stories hit the headlines in late March. Incredible, they reappeared almost six months later.
How did that happen?
The government spent April and May dealing with their test failures by building a huge new system that should be able to offer a test to anyone who needed one.
First we were promised 100,000 tests a day, then 250,000, then 400,000. Last week, Boris Johnson's "Moonshot" announcement finally came – "literally millions" of people were being tested every day "in the near future," he claimed.
It sounded remarkable – a way back to normal. But the reality? For most of the days over the past few weeks, the system has struggled to process even 150,000 swabs a day and is now at least 185,000 backlog.
People with symptoms are regularly told that no test is available – unless they are willing to travel hundreds of kilometers.
And yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a new priority list that made it clear that patients and nursing home residents would be at the top of the queue. Why did this huge test system collapse so dramatically?
The main reason is that the demand has increased – and the network of laboratories that run the tests just can't keep up.
Infections are doubling every week – and for every person who tests positive there are up to 100 more who will need a test even if they turn out to be negative. The start of the school year has also seen an increase in seasonal coughs and colds, which has resulted in even greater demand.
But all of this was foreseeable. Scientists have long warned that the test system must be functional by the time schools return and, above all, in time for a predicted second increase in Covid this winter.
Sir John Bell, of Oxford University, said ministers "underestimated" the speed with which cases would arise and the additional demand from children returning to school.
"You are definitely around the corner," he said.
But instead of accepting that they were caught unawares, ministers have accused the public of “frivolously” looking for tests when they have no symptoms. Given that ministers and officials have spent the summer convincing people to seek tests, it is not only unfair but also misleading.
The government seems intent on diverting attention from fundamental issues with its network of seven privately owned "lighthouse" laboratories that were set up in the spring. At the time, scholars questioned why ministers turned to the private sector rather than using the expertise in UK university laboratories.
According to reports, the lighthouse laboratories are now facing a staff shortage. There were also reliability issues. Allan Wilson, president of the Institute of Biomedical Science, the professional body for laboratory scientists, said, “We want transparency. We need someone to open the lid of the lighthouse labs and tell them how big the capacity is. "
With cases increasing and no quick fix in sight, the problems of last spring are definitely back – and they seem to stretch into winter.
Care Boss: Act Now or Home Deaths Will Rise Again
The tests in nursing homes need to be improved, otherwise there may be more deaths, the English nursing chief has warned.
Professor Martin Green said testing within the sector "went back" with long delays in order to get tests and results.
The government's pledge to conduct weekly tests for employees and monthly tests for residents is not being kept in many areas, so the virus could possibly spread unhindered.
The warning comes when Health Secretary Matt Hancock pledged to put nursing homes at the top of the queue while announcing plans to ration coronavirus tests for those most in need.
On the Front Line: Staff at Shedfield Lodge Nursing Home near Southampton, which received a shipment of PPE from Mail-backed charity Mail Force, are struggling to get test results
The rise in coronavirus infections has resulted in cases in nursing homes. Official figures show that between August 31 and September 6, 513 cases were recorded in nursing homes.
So far, cases have mostly been among staff – but there are fears that they could spread to residents and lead to more catastrophic deaths.
"Do not keep children away with a cold"
Parents shouldn't keep their children away from school if they're likely to have a cold, a top doctor said.
GP Dr. Sarah Jarvis said the average child gets up to 12 colds or viral infections per year. She suggested that if children were kept away every time they sniffed, they would spend "virtually no time" in school.
But if kids cough for more than an hour or have three or more coughing fits within 24 hours, they should stay home, she said.
"If they just have a runny nose or sneeze but don't have a fever, don't have a cough, and don't have that change in smell or taste, NHS 111 advises they don't need tests and the NHS website says the same thing," said them to Radio 4 & # 39; s World at One.
"Since we don't think there is a likelihood that they will have Covid, I would suggest that you don't keep them out of school unless you did otherwise," she said.
"Children get so many of these things every year that if we keep every kid who has a runny nose out of school, they practically spend no time there," she added.
Earlier this week, the government wrote to care home providers in England warning them of a surge in coronavirus infections within the sector.
In the director's letter for Adult Social Security Provisioning, bosses were urged "to take the necessary measures to prevent and contain outbreaks".
It has resulted in hundreds of homes closing again to visitors just a month after they reopened.
The local health authorities are now determining whether visits are still allowed, depending on the infection rate in the area.
Professor Green, executive director of Care England, which represents independent adult social welfare providers, said homes were dying to let in visitors but had to "weigh the risk of including Covid".
"If we don't improve the tests, there is a real risk that the deaths will recur earlier this year," he said. According to the manager of the Shedfield Lodge nursing home near Southampton, Hampshire, the tests were frustratingly "sporadic".
The house, which received an important amount of personal protective equipment in April from the Mail Force charity supported by this newspaper, had no problem sourcing the kits.
Despite an alleged processing time of 72 hours, some employees and residents wait weeks later for their results.
Manager Alicia Taskis said yesterday: & # 39; The results have been sporadic. Some employees did not receive any results. Some employees waited much longer than 72 hours. We sent out 20 test kits on Friday and currently nobody has one back. & # 39;
Due to the surge in infections in the community, two of the largest national care companies have closed their homes to visitors.
Care UK has temporarily closed 48 of its 124 nursing homes to visitors, while HC-One has done so in 133 of its 329 homes, restricting visits to areas that have peaked in certain cases.
A health ministry spokesman said, "We have done everything we can to ensure that all nursing home workers and residents are protected."
Patients refused the operation without the all-clear from Covid
Patients are denied surgery because they cannot get a test to prove they are virus-free.
One man had postponed his surgery for two weeks – although his advisor wanted to bring it forward – after the testing center lost its result. Operations and appointments have been canceled because patients cannot book a seat to prove they don't have the virus.
31-year-old Gavin Zembrzuski was due to undergo knee surgery on Monday. However, this was postponed until the end of the month as his local test center lost the result.
Gavin Zembrzuski, 31, was due to have knee surgery on Monday but was postponed until the end of the month as his local testing center lost the result
Patients undergoing NHS surgery must have a negative test result three days prior to the procedure, otherwise this will not be possible.
Mr Zembrzuski, who lives in Llandrindod in Powys, Wales, said: "If they can't do a small operation like my knee, I fear for people who have to undergo surgery for life-threatening conditions like cancer."
Yesterday, hospital leaders warned that the testing fiasco was affecting routine services as NHS staff would also have to take time off to self-isolate.
NHS providers said senior executives in London, Bristol and Leeds reported doctors and nurses calling in sick and unable to get a test.
Chris Hopson, executive director of the organization that represents hospitals and other acute trusts, said the health service "just can't spare employees waiting for tests and unable to come to work."
He added, “We now have cases where patients who should be treated cannot be treated because they cannot get access to a test. It's a real problem for them. & # 39;
Delays hit teachers … causing hundreds of students to miss classes
Academy boss Steve Chalke
Schools will be "disappointed" by delays in Covid-19 tests that are holding hundreds of students across the country from class, an academy chief claimed yesterday.
And the government's “chaotic” handling of the crisis has led to massive disruptions in education.
School principals have complained about a "lack of capacity," which means that a single virus case in a school can leave multiple groups of students in isolation because they cannot find out if they are infected.
Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Academy Trust, said eight of its schools had to send a total of 1,200 students home to self-isolate, including year-round groups.
Central London's Oasis Academy South Bank sent 240 children home because a single teacher tested positive. Other employees who should be isolated as a precaution could not receive tests. Mr Chalke said, "We feel disappointed … What schools need is on-site testing, they need mass testing, they need regular testing."
He attacked the "massive disruption of every child's education".
James Bowen of the NAHT school principals union said there was "chaos caused by the inability of employees and families to be successfully tested when they show symptoms".
Over 30 schools have told at least one full cohort to stay home or close completely following a coronavirus case. This occurred yesterday.
A government spokesman said children and school staff should only get a test if they develop symptoms.
One of the schools owned by Academy Director Steve Chalke, who sent 240 students home, is shown
Only three of the 49 best hotspots have tests
By Sam Greenhill, Jake Hurfurt and Andy Dolan for the Daily Mail
Coronavirus tests were not available in 46 of the 49 best infection hotspots in England yesterday, according to a quick poll.
In most of the places where symptoms have been reported, the official Covid-19 test booking system simply said, "No slots available".
Lack of airport swab kit
Plans to reopen the UK skies with an airport testing regime are being delayed by a lack of coronavirus testing, Heathrow's boss said last night.
John Holland-Kaye announced that the Department of Transportation is keen to bring airside testing facilities up and running to save the economy. But he said the government has not yet approved the plans.
He told Channel 4 News: & # 39; The blockade affects capacity for test facilities. Now we've spoken to private suppliers to get around this – either for the same test the government is using for the NHS … or for one of those new rapid on-site tests that the Prime Minister talked about last week. "
He added, "As far as I know, the only thing holding us back is government concerns about testability."
It comes after MPs and business leaders warned that failure to test passengers is having catastrophic effects on the economy. You support the Daily Mail's Get Britain Flying Again campaign for an airport test regime. Dozens of countries have instituted airport tests to get their economies back on track, but the UK is one of the few countries that insists on a blanket 14-day quarantine of arrivals from high-risk destinations.
Last week the International Air Transport Association warned that if tests are not implemented, the UK will lose its position as the third largest global aviation market.
The airports gave ministers until the end of the month to find a solution. Heathrow has set up a multi-million pound facility and is in talks with private companies that can deliver virus test results quickly without draining capacity from the NHS. Last night Mr Holland-Kaye asked, "If the capacity is there and we have the facilities in Heathrow, why can't we continue?"
It came when the European Commission revealed plans that could force all British travelers to take a test before they go on vacation. She is pushing for a traffic light warning system for red, amber, and green nations so that the entire block uses the same criteria for restricting travel. However, passengers who submit a negative test certificate could shorten the quarantine period or scrap it entirely. UK ministers should consider adopting the model.
A transport ministry spokesman said work with medical experts and the travel industry was still ongoing to see if and how tests could be used to reduce self-isolation time.
An exception was Preston, Lancashire, where a test was offered to anyone willing to travel 22 miles – and waiting until next year.
Users also reported being offered a test in the capital if you live in London but entering a postcode for Aberdeen.
In another quirk, nothing was available in Liverpool yesterday, but the people there were instructed to cross the River Mersey to Wirral, while those in Wirral itself were sent to Deeside, 11 miles south.
In the meantime, many test sites appeared to be empty and staff were idle. Boris Johnson has promised that a world's best test run will take place by June.
But yesterday it was exposed as a mess by a Daily Mail poll. Tests were requested using zip codes in each of the 49 areas on Public Health England's watch list where infection rates are highest.
Only Sefton on Merseyside, Sheffield and Northampton offered tests for the people living there that day. Daily Mail reporters have not booked any of the tests on offer.
At the top of the hotspot list is Bolton with 121 cases per 100,000 population. Although reporters made several attempts yesterday, no test sites were available for the people living there.
The government website, set up to handle booking inquiries, asks users a series of questions, including whether they are key contributors. The answer with "yes" didn't seem to make any difference.
It will take several tries to get to the point where the website says "No Slots Available". In most cases, users are greeted with the message "This service is currently very busy". Try again in a few hours. Local testing was not available in Preston, but the website did offer testing in Litherland, which is 22 miles away on Merseyside.
Despite the fact that 34 spots were available, the website was unable to offer a booking until at least January 31, 2021.
However, in five other areas on the watchlist – Wirral, Liverpool, Knowsley, Stoke-on-Trent and St. Helens – daytime testing was available for those willing to travel to a neighboring area up to 30 km away.
In Coventry, staff at the drive-in testing center across from Ricoh Stadium appeared concerned about preventing the media from covering the nearly empty facility. Five of the eight test fields appeared to be empty.
Security guards tried to prevent a reporter from taking pictures of a two-lane road overlooking the construction site and insisted that he delete the pictures before he was allowed to drive away.
A health ministry spokesman later said journalists were not banned from taking photos of test sites, but were asked not to take photos of people using the sites or their license plates without first obtaining permission.
Commenting on the testing situation, he said, “It is wrong to say that testing is not available in these areas and our capacity will continue to be used where it is needed most. While we're seeing significant demand, over a million tests are processed every week – averaging around 200,000 per day over the past week. & # 39;