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UK's creaking COVID-19 test system puts health services at risk

Tue, 15th Sep 2020 12:40

LONDON, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Britain's testing system for
COVID-19 was creaking on Tuesday as a bottleneck prevented
people including medics from getting a test in a potential
threat to key health services, health sector organisations said.

In an attempt to slow one of the highest coronavirus death
tolls in the West, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised in May
to create a "world beating" system to test and trace people
exposed to the virus.

"Our members are telling us that lack of access to testing
for staff is a major barrier to them delivering services," said
Layla McCay, director at the NHS Confederation, which represents
organisations across the healthcare sector.

"We are significantly concerned that some people with
symptoms of COVID-19, including healthcare workers and their
families, are having difficulty in accessing tests due to
insufficient laboratory capacity," she said.

Attempts by Reuters reporters to get a COVID-19 test on
Tuesday were greeted with a notice on the government's website
saying: "This service is currently very busy. More tests should
be available later."

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which
represent hospital trusts in England, said a growing number
staff were unable to come to work because they or someone they
live with had COVID-like symptoms but couldn't get tested.

He said hospital bosses were working in the dark as they did
not know why there were shortages, how long they were likely to
last, how geographically widespread they were nor what priority
would be given to healthcare workers.

Britain advises those showing symptoms to get a test though
it says the system has been burdened by people with no symptoms
asking for tests. Some schools have demanded any ill students
get a test or stay away for 14 days.

The health ministry said the country's COVID-19 testing
capacity was the highest it had ever been but there was
"significant demand" from people who did not have symptoms.

"New booking slots and home testing kits are made available
daily for people with symptoms and we are targeting testing
capacity at the areas that need it most," the ministry said.

Parliament Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said on Tuesday he was
receiving numerous complaints from people unable to get tests
after displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

"This is completely unacceptable and totally undermines
track and trace," he wrote in a tweet.
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing
by David Clarke)

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