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View from Westminster: Testing capacity has been cut by a fifth, says Helen Hayes

It is now clear that Covid-19, which has already brought huge pain, loss and hardship to so many families, will have a significant and ongoing impact on our lives for the rest of this year and into next year.

With numbers of cases in the UK doubling in the last week or so, there is a real risk that the rising number of cases in young people will soon result in increasing infections in older people who are more vulnerable to the disease.

We are already beginning to see more people with coronavirus in our hospitals, having to receive lifesaving treatment in intensive care.  NHS staff, care workers and other key workers are braced for a second wave that everyone had hoped we would not have to endure.

In the earliest stages of the pandemic, it was clear that while we wait for a vaccine to be developed, an effective test, trace and isolate system, underpinned by a secure mobile phone app in which people could have confidence, would be essential to the task of keeping people safe whilst also allowing as much normality as possible.

It was also utterly predictable that when children returned to school in September after most had been away from the classroom for six months, the inevitable start of term cold season would result in an increase in people experiencing the coronavirus symptoms of fever and cough and an increase in testing capacity would be needed.

Yet despite knowing exactly what was needed, Boris Johnson’s Tory government has let us down again and again.

Instead of working with local Public Health teams in boroughs across the country, the Tories have chosen to spend millions of pounds of public money on private contracts with companies that simply can’t deliver.

As a result, they have cut testing capacity in London in recent weeks by a fifth and I’ve lost count of the number of constituents who have contacted me because they can’t get the test they or their children need.  Absurdly, some have been offered tests as far away as St Andrew’s in Scotland – a round trip of almost 500 miles.

As I write this article, we are still waiting for the roll-out of the much-vaunted mobile phone app.

It is an insult to the enormous sacrifices that residents across my constituency and across Southwark have made, and to the keyworkers like nurses, doctors, teachers, care workers, frontline council staff and delivery drivers that the Tories have allowed their dogmatic, ideological obsession with outsourcing and privatisation to override proven public health infection control techniques.

I know that my constituents and residents across Southwark will play our part in reducing coronavirus spread and keeping each other safe in the coming weeks, but we urgently need Boris Johnson and his Tory government to get a grip and provide a functioning test, trace and isolate system we can rely on.


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