The test system faces a “huge challenge” after a “sharp rise” in those seeking a Covid-19 test, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
When asked about reports of people struggling to be tested, Mr Hancock said it would take a matter of weeks to resolve the issues.
He said No. 1
Test sites have been limited due to bottlenecks in laboratory treatment of swabs.
The Labor Party said there were no tests available in virus “hotspots” over the weekend.
This comes after hospital chiefs warned that lack of tests for NHS staff puts services at risk.
An increase in the demand for coronavirus tests has led to local shortages, with some people being led to test sites hundreds of miles from their homes.
People have told the BBC about their frustration at being rejected from a walk-in test center in Oldham, Greater Manchester.
A woman who attended the walk-in center said staff had told her labs were struggling to turn the tests around.
BBC Health editor Hugh Pym said: “There seem to be enough test sites, but there are bottlenecks in the laboratories for treating the cotton swabs taken. Therefore, they limit the number of slots for the public, just when more people want to get tested. “
A cabinet minister told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg that this was a “classic government problem” where the demand for a public service exceeds supply.
The minister, she said, was convinced that “under noise” got the majority of the services they needed when they needed it.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Michael Gove told the BBC that the government was working to increase test capacity through investment in new test centers and so-called lighthouse laboratories.
Scotland’s Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is hoping a delayed test result will be resolved shortly after “constructive” talks with Mr Hancock.
The British government on Tuesday announced 3,105 new laboratory-confirmed cases, bringing the total number of positive tests to 374,228. A further 27 people died within 28 days after a positive coronavirus test, bringing the total number of deaths to 41,664.
The number of patients in mechanical ventilation beds across the UK has passed 100 for the first time in almost two months. There were 106 patients in ventilation in the UK on Monday – the first time the number has been over 100 since July 24.
UK-wide figures for today have not yet been released, but there were 101 patients in ventilation in England alone on Tuesday.
About 220,000 tests are processed every day, according to government figures released last week, with a testing capacity of more than 350,000 – which includes inoculation tests and antibody tests. The goal is to increase it to 500,000 a day by the end of October.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Hancock said there were “operational challenges” with tests that the government was “working hard” to address.
He said throughout the pandemic that they had prioritized testing as needed.
Sir. Hancock said “the biggest priority is and always has been acute clinical care,” followed by social care, with the government sending “over 100,000 tests a day” because of the virus risk in nursing homes.
Conservative chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Jeremy Hunt, was among MPs who asked Mr Hancock about testing and said a number of his constituents had to travel for testing while a key employee had to wait a week for her results.
“A week ago today, the Secretary of State told the Health Select Committee that he expected to resolve this issue in two weeks,” Hunt said.
“Given the efforts made by his department, is the Secretary of State still convinced that we will have this problem solved in a week’s?”
“I think we will be able to solve this problem in a few weeks,” Mr Hancock replied.
He said demand was “high” but “record capacity” was provided with plans to ensure testing is a priority for those who need it most.
Despite the health secretary’s promises, there will be no easy solution to the lack of testing.
All expectations are that things will go up. People are circulating more when society reopens and we are entering the period when the respiratory virus is thriving.
As cases increase, the requirements for the test system will increase. Even with the promise of more test capacity in the coming weeks, the chances of continued shortages remain a clear possibility.
A new laboratory is to be opened later this month, which will be able to perform 50,000 tests a day. But this could be easily swallowed.
What this means is that testing should be prioritized where it is most needed. It will be in nursing homes, hospitals and among key workers as well as where there are local outbreaks. The Government Monitoring Program, run by the Office for National Statistics, will also be protected.
But this is not unique to the UK. Other countries are facing similar pressure. In fact, the UK is testing more people per year. Inhabitant than Spain, France and Germany.
It promises to be a difficult winter throughout Europe.
Labor’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Mr Hancock “lost control of the virus”.
He said that after schools and offices reopened, additional demand for the system was “inevitable”. He questioned why Mr Hancock did not use the summer “to expand” NHS laboratory capacity significantly and “correct” contact tracking.
In response, Mr Hancock replied that it was “inevitable” that demand would increase with a free service, adding the “challenge” was to ensure that testing is a priority for those who need it most.
Earlier, Home Secretary Priti Patel told BBC Breakfast that the government was “increasing capacity” where needed.
She said “much more work” needs to be done with Public Health England (PHE) and local public health agencies; and that No. 10 will continue to work with PHE to “increase where there is demand” in hotspots.
Mrs Patel also said England’s new rule of six meant families should not stop on the street to talk to friends.
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