'Operational challenges': Matt Hancock brushes off people being told to drive hundreds of miles for Covid tests

“People still having to go more than 100 miles for a test, it's not working' health secretary told

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 03 September 2020 10:11
Matt Hancock quizzed on people driving hundreds of miles for a Covid test

Matt Hancock has dismissed protests that people are being forced to drive hundreds of miles for a Covid-19 test, insisting the “vast majority” get one easily.

An official website has advised residents in London to travel to Wales and those in Cumbria to head to Scotland – triggering fresh criticism that the much-criticised testing system is failing.

Public health experts are warning that new coronavirus spikes could be missed, as increased testing in high-risk areas sparks big shortages in other places.

Mr Hancock was told it made a mockery of his claim of a “world-beating testing regime”. “People still having to go more than 100 miles for a test, it's not working,” a BBC Breakfast presenter said.

But the health secretary brushed off the criticism, saying: “Of course, there are operational challenges in any system.

He added: “If you have symptoms, you should go and get a test – and the vast majority of tests are available at the testing centre closest to you.”

Mr Hancock announced a community-wide trial of repeated, saliva-based tests for coronavirus in Salford, alongside £500m of funding for trials of a 20-minute test.

But he repeatedly refused to set a date for those rapid tests being widely available, admitting he was relying on relying on “brand new technology”.

When Mr Hancock said the long-called for mass testing would happen “over the coming weeks and months”, the presenter replied: “That sounds a bit vague, can we be a bit more specific?”

On the government's coronavirus test booking service, people with symptoms entering their home postcodes were told to travel:* From London to testing sites in Cardiff and the Isle of Wight – between 50 and 135 miles away.

* From Devon to Carmarthen – 200 miles away.

* From Cumbria to Dumfries, in Scotland – 50 miles away.

A Conservative MP in Hampshire, Caroline Nokes, revealed the website told her daughter to travel to Inverness.

Meanwhile, Mr Hancock hailed the potential for mass testing, a task he has dubbed ‘Operation Moonshot’.

“Short of a vaccine, this is the best chance we have of reducing social distancing whilst controlling the virus, especially with winter coming, with all the challenges that brings,” he said.

But Professor Alan McNally, from the University of Birmingham, said mass testing should have been introduced over the summer when infections were lower.

“I think the time was right to think about scaling up testing to the wider community and asymptomatic testing over the summer when we were relatively Covid-secure, knowing that autumn and winter would come,” he said.

“Ideally, we would be far more advanced in our ability to handle what we're already beginning to see, an increase in requirement for Covid testing and respiratory infection testing.”

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments