'A national embarrassment'

Unite calls for an urgent ramp in testing amid government failrues

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Unite has slammed the government’s slow response to testing essential workers such as NHS staff for coronavirus.

The criticism comes after health and social care secretary Matt Hancock pledged to be testing 100,000 people each and every day by the end of April. But with only three days to go until the end of the month, the government has fallen far short of its testing aims. On Saturday, just over 29,000 tests were carried out, while the government said it now has testing capacity of 50,000 a day.

Commenting, Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said, “The government has been very slow, compared with countries like South Korea and Germany, in introducing an effective and fast testing regime to process the large numbers that need testing, starting with NHS staff and other key workers. 

 “The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that: ‘Test, test, test’ was the way forward as long ago as 16 March as ‘you cannot a fight a fire blindfolded’ – ministers were seriously behind the curve in responding to that challenge,” he added.

“It is approaching a national embarrassment that health and social care secretary Matt Hancock looks very unlikely to reach his own self-imposed target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month this Thursday – and this is compounded by the fact as there appears to be no way of checking who is a key worker,” he went on to say.

As the government continues to face criticism over its testing failures, it emerged today (April 27) that the military has begun assisting by operating mobile testing units in harder to reach areas.

Nearly 100 of these ‘pop-up’ testing centres are planned in total, with 11 now currently operational.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who stood in for the prime minister when he was in hospital with coronavirus, admitted on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show that the government had to ramp up testing.

“We have certainly got to get the daily testing right up to hundreds of thousands which, along with the tracking and tracing, gives us… more flexibility because we can open up measures, open up access,” he said.

Despite the govenrment’s pledges to ramp testing up, many health and social care staff have reported not having yet been tested, with some highlighting that testing centres were simply too far away and only accessible by long car drives.

The BBC reported that of the 210 care providers it spoke to, 159 said that not a single of their staff members had been tested.

Colenzo highlighted the stark difference in the number of tests carried out and the government’s reported testing capacity.

“The government is saying that they have the capacity to test 50,000 people, but on Saturday they tested just over 29,000. So there is a distinct issue there – why is there a blockage in the system? Why does the government claim to have a certain capacity but only just over half of that is being achieved?”

Colenzo noted that Unite’s health sector is also now hard at work to lobby for its health care scientists to help in the national testing effort.

“Our health care scientists have a tremendous amount of experience and are eager to step up to the plate and help,” he noted.

Colenzo went on to call on the government to take the issue of testing seriously and to stop making excuses.

“Now that Boris Johnson is back behind his desk today he needs to put all his energies into vastly vamping up testing as a matter of national urgency, as well as getting on top of the continuing lack of PPE for frontline NHS staff who are risking their lives to save others, which Unite has already said is a scandal,” he said.

Unite believes ahead of International Workers’ Memorial Day tomorrow (April 28) that an increase in testing is now more important than ever as the number of health and social care worker deaths continues to climb amid the pandemic.

Don’t forget the minute’s silence tomorrow April 28, at 11 am to remember coronavirus victims who lost their lives serving on the front line. And as trade union members can’t make their usual tribute and remembrances to lost colleagues together in person, why not join in an online collective moment of remembrance and solidarity at 2 pm? Speakers include TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and Unite executive council member and London bus driver, James Mitchell. Register here https://www.crowdcast.io/e/iwmd2020/register

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