Coronavirus: Hackney’s top officials slam government’s ‘shambolic’ system as hundreds turned away from testing centres

A member of staff holds a test kit at a Coronavirus testing centre. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/ PA Wi

A member of staff holds a test kit at a Coronavirus testing centre. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/ PA Wire/PA Images - Credit: PA

Top officials in Hackney have slammed the government’s coronavirus testing system as a shambles, after hundreds of people who needed tests at the weekend were turned away from the borough’s two testing centres.

Phil Glanville. Picture: Hackney Council

Phil Glanville. Picture: Hackney Council - Credit: Hackney Council

Hackney’s health chief Sandra Husbands and Mayor Phil Glanville have complained the lack of testing capacity has left local authorities and public health services “unable to do their job”, and that it falls far short of the “world class” and “local by default” system promised by the government.

Without testing, they say, it is impossible to get an accurate sense of the scale of the “deadly” virus in Hackney or across the country.

On Friday the council urged people with coronavirus symptoms to attend either of the borough’s two walk-in centres in Stamford Hill and Dalston, after many people who tried to book tests online were told to travel hundreds of miles to Inverness or Dundee.

But by 10am on Sunday people who turned up at the testing centres were told there were not enough tests available.

Sandra Husbands. Picture: Hackney Council

Sandra Husbands. Picture: Hackney Council - Credit: Hackney Council

“In Stamford Hill, just 84 tests were available, at a centre that routinely saw several hundred people a day - even before schools reopened and people were encouraged to return to their offices,” said Mr Glanville, laying into the “shambolic testing system”.

The situation is not restricted to Hackney, and the Covid-19 hotspots of Bolton, Salford, Bradford and Blackburn currently have no tests available either.

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Mr Glanville said he “shared people’s anger, frustration and fear” about the government’s handling of testing.

“The safe reopening of schools and the economy is absolutely dependent on the availability of a robust and effective testing regime.

“As the government encouraged people back to the office and sent children back to school, it was clear that September would see an increase in the number of people getting tested as more people interact,” he said.

“This should have been planned for weeks ago and we do not accept the suggestion that the public is to blame for taking “unnecessary” tests.” Last week the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, blamed the lack of available tests on too many asymptomatic people booking them. Two weeks ago Hackney had the highest number of positive cases diagnosed in London, but this week the borough is way down the list at 17 out of 32 boroughs.

“While on paper this should be good news, I strongly believe that this is because our residents have not been able to get the tests they need, close to where they live and work,” said Mr Glanville.

“Until we have a drop in infection rates that is matched by sustained levels of testing, we cannot feel truly confident that we are having an impact on the virus in our communities.

Dr Husbands warned that without a good testing programme she is unable to do her job. “The government has requested that Hackney Council supports them in local contact tracing, which we are launching imminently,” she said.

“However we need positive test results to commence contact tracing, and to put wider public health measures in place.

“If our residents are unable to get tested, then we are unable to do this.”

The Department for Health and Social Care was approached for comment.