Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused the Government of being ‘very slow’ and ‘way behind other European countries’ on testing health care professionals (HCPs) for COVID-19. In a sharp and confident first outing at Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir took acting Prime Minister Dominic Raab to task over the Government’s pledge to test 100,000 people a day by the end of April. ‘The figure for yesterday was 18,000 tests, down from monday when there were 19,000 tests. We are way behind the curve.
‘What does he expect will happen in the next eight days, to get from 18,000 tests a day to 100,000 a day?’ he asked Mr Raab.
Sir Keir also probed the Health Secretary’s pledge that every care worker who needed a test would get one, saying ‘the reality on the ground is very different… Social care workers in Leicester are being told to go to the outskirts of Nottingham, a 45 minute drive away to get tested.’
Mr Raab acknowledged there were problems, but said the government was working with local resilience organisations and introducing mobile testing labs to improve access to testing.
Shortages in PPE were also attacked by the Leader of the Opposition, who brought up the UK suppliers who have said their offers of help have been ignored by the Government. ‘There is a pattern emerging here,’ said Sir Keir. ‘We were slow into lockdown, slow on testing and now slow to take up these offers from British firms on PPE.’
Mr Raab retorted that the Government had been ‘guided at every step’ by scientific advice. ‘If he [Sir Keir] thinks he knows better than they do, with the benefit of hindsight, then that’s his decision, but that’s not the way we’ve proceeded and it’s not the way we will in the future. ‘
Mr Raab confirmed that 69 NHS workers had died as a result of coronavirus, but could not give a figure for social care workers. Health Secretary Matt Hancock later confirmed that 15 had died.