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Covid-19 Tests: Supply

Volume 707: debated on Tuesday 18 January 2022

5. What plans his Department has to ensure that there is an adequate supply of covid-19 tests during the covid-19 outbreak. (905079)

19. What steps his Department is taking to increase the supply of lateral flow and PCR covid-19 tests. (905094)

We have significantly increased our testing and supply capacity since December, procuring over 700 million more lateral flow tests, ramping up our delivery capacity and expanding the UK’s daily PCR capacity. Around 1.7 billion lateral flow tests have been distributed across the UK since the start of the pandemic. Home delivery capacity is now at over 7 million lateral flow tests every day, and we have also recently increased capacity for PCR testing by more than 200,000 tests per day.

I asked the Prime Minister, but he did not know. I asked the Business Secretary and he did not seem to care. So today is third time lucky. Why were 30 million British-made lateral flow tests sitting in a warehouse waiting for approval while Chinese tests were given temporary approval, all while people could not get test kits from pharmacies or from Test and Trace? It took six months to give approval to SureScreen diagnostics: when will the Government support British test manufacturers and end the preference for imports from China?

I can give the hon. Gentleman an answer, and I am very happy to do so. He will know that whenever we try to procure tests, in this case lateral flow tests, we should always try to buy British first, and we do buy from SureScreen—it is a fantastic supplier. But he will also know that we can only, rightly, buy lateral flow tests once they have been approved by our independent medical regulator.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that access to the largest testing programme in Europe is just one example of the advantages to the people of Scotland when we adopt a UK-wide approach to shared challenges?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend about a unified approach to shared challenges such as covid-19, and that unified approach being the best way forward. Across the UK, we have built the largest diagnostic network in British history and our testing programme has been one of the most important lines of defence, alongside our UK-wide vaccination programme. Our procurement of tests, antivirals and vaccines has been another fantastic example of the strength of the Union.

“Always try and buy British first” was what the Secretary of State said a few moments ago, but a few weeks ago it was reported that plans to manufacture lateral flow tests here in the UK were shelved because the Government were scared that they might be accused of handing out dodgy deals to their mates. I know the Minister has form on this, but on this point they were misguided. Can he now say to the House that that was not the case and that he was not running scared of a transparent procurement policy, and that he will now do all he can to turbocharge British manufacturing and get British lateral flow tests in the system, so that we do not ever suffer again from those avoidable shortages we saw over Christmas?

First, I think the hon. Gentleman accused me of doing something inappropriate, and I think that that is not appropriate, unless he has something else to say or some evidence, but it is true to form for the Labour Front Bench, which just constantly makes things up to make false points. When it comes to testing, as he has just heard me say, we have purchased 1.7 billion lateral flow tests since the start of the pandemic. Wherever possible, whether it is PCR testing or lateral flow testing, whenever tests are approved by our independent regulator, we buy British.