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Covid-19 Testing Capacity

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 17 November 2020

We are processing coronavirus tests on an unprecedented scale and expanding capacity further, having already met our testing capacity target of 500,000 tests a day by the end of October. We now have five Lighthouse labs operating across the UK, with two more announced yesterday, and significant progress on next-generation testing technologies.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the tremendous progress he has made over recent months on increasing our testing capacity, including the delivery of a new site in my constituency. The recent announcement regarding care homes is welcome. How quickly does he think the trial process can be concluded, so that we can roll out a nationwide scheme to ensure that those in care homes can finally see their loved ones again?

We have discussed many times in this House the importance of the use of testing because of the terrible dilemma of wanting to keep people safe in care homes, yet also wanting to allow visiting. Testing can help to resolve that. The pilots are ongoing in some parts of the country, and I very much hope that we can get to a position where we can offer testing to enable visiting across the country before Christmas

I welcome the testing pilots that are happening, including in Southampton. How will the Government be able to support local authorities and public health teams with the logistics of mass testing, particularly in large rural areas such as Hampshire?

Increasingly, the test itself is only one part of getting a high-quality testing system. The logistics around it are also vital. We are already funding local authorities across the country to support them to roll out mass testing, but we will learn from the pilots, including in Hampshire, to see what extra might be needed.

Testing, backed up by tracing and isolation, is key to avoiding further lockdowns. At the Secretary of State’s press conference yesterday, we heard that tier 1 has had “very little effect” and that the tiers must be strengthened. Can he confirm that it is the Government’s intention to impose a tougher set of restrictions on tier 1 areas post this lockdown?

It is too early to do the analysis that the hon. Gentleman requests, but of course, we remain vigilant.

We will soon be asked to make a decision on the future of the lockdown, so the earlier we get that information, the better.

Testing for NHS staff is crucial for dealing with the backlog in NHS care. Last week, we learned that 139,000 people are waiting beyond 12 months for treatment. We now know that 252,000 people are waiting beyond 18 weeks for orthopaedic surgery, which is often hip and knee replacements, and 233,000 patients are waiting beyond 18 weeks for eye surgery—many could go blind. People are waiting longer for gynae surgery and heart valve surgery, and many are languishing on trolleys in dangerously overcrowded A&Es. As well as testing NHS staff, Ministers have promised to give the NHS whatever it takes. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the spending review will deliver the resources, beds and capacity to bring waiting lists down?

The good news is that we are managing to continue to drive through the backlog that understandably built up in the first peak. Instead of attacking the NHS, the hon. Gentleman should be backing the NHS and thanking it for the incredible hard work that it is doing right now and will be doing this winter.