UK COVID-19 testing bottleneck exposed

COVID-19 testing Bottleneck
COVID-19 has changed the lives of almost everyone in the world, but a second wave could prove just as disastrous without the proper testing infrastructure. Source: Armonjones (Via. WikiMedia Commons)
A leaked document has revealed a large bottleneck in COVID-19 testing as well as shining doubt on claims that the UK COVID-19 response is "world-beating".

By Hallum Cowell | Deputy Editor

A document leaked on Sunday, September 13, revealed how the UK’s COVID-19 testing infrastructure is facing a “critical pinch-point” as described by officials.

The leaked document, labelled as “official: sensitive”, showed that a backlog of 185,000 swabs had been built up in UK laboratories.   

The bottleneck

The cause of the build up appears to be the lack of dedicated testing facilities in the UK. While there are enough testing kits for those suspecting they are infected, the infrastructure to confirm or deny those kits in a laboratory appear to be lacking.

A recent uptick in the need for tests has also added to the problem, with many eager to test themselves for the virus before returning to work or school.

Within the leaked document were also reports that a number of laboratories were not operating at full capacity, that 4.3% of tests were being “voided” mainly due to “leaked samples” and that some tests were being exported to Germany and Italy in an effort to manage the bottleneck.

A “world-beating” operation?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised early in the pandemic that the UK would operate a “world-beating” testing strategy, however, this does not seem to be the case.

While government targets remain that test results should be returned within 24 hours a third of results miss this target, while a fourth are returned after 48 hours.

Additionally, it seems that the claim made by the UK government that the testing capacity sits at 375,000 per day may not be accurate. The leaked document shows the number of tests conducted per day is around 230,000. 

The British Medical Association’s chair Chaand Nagpaul said it is “unacceptable that people and contacts with the infection are not being identified due to failings in the system – which is resulting in the infection spreading blindly.”

This latest crisis has thrown the whole of the UK’s COVID-19 response into scrutiny, it was revealed on Monday, September 14, that none of the top 10 COVID-19 hotspots in England have any test kits available.

With a second wave of COVID-19 becoming more likely by the day as countries in Western Europe begin to see dramatic uptick in cases, The UK’s system for identifying those infected seems woefully unprepared.

Public Health Wales data leak

Adding to the turmoil surrounding the government’s testing infrastructure, it has been revealed that Public Health Wales leaked 18,000 test results by accident on August 30. The information was online for 20 hours, accessible to anyone. The information leaked included; initials, date of birth, geographical area, and sex.

The Welsh government said the incident was the result of “individual human error” and that the information was viewed 56 times before it was taken down.

Chief Executive of Public Health Wales said, “We take our obligations to protect people’s data extremely seriously and I am sorry that on this occasion we failed.

And that “We have commenced a swift and thorough external investigation into how this specific incident occurred and the lessons to be learned.

Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.

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