A public health professor has claimed Conservative government cuts have “emaciated” the testing system and made the ability to track down coronavirus (Covid-19) cases more difficult.
Gabriel Scally, a former regional director of public health, said he was “very worried” about the country’s ability to get to the levels of contact tracers needed. Scally said 10 years ago it would have been possible – but cuts have damaged this.
His anger was in response to Conservative former Cabinet minister David Gauke’s defence of reductions in public spending. Gauke warned of an “even more difficult situation” without austerity as he tried to focus on resilience.
But the Bristol University professor told BBC Newsnight:
I think that’s nonsense if I may be so bold.
The resilience has been stripped systematically out of the system, you cannot, when a big problem like this hits, you can’t just reinvent things and put them back the way you wish they were.
If you make the system as lean and emaciated as it is there will not be the public health staff there, there will not be the health visitors, there will not be the environmental health officers and you can’t magic them up out of nowhere.
Simply testing key workers, health service workers and the over 65s really won’t cut it, so it needs to be a comprehensive programme
“Testing was absolutely critical, it hasn’t been handled properly”
Meanwhile, Paul Nurse, chief executive of biomedical research centre the Francis Crick Institute, labelled the government’s target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per day “a PR stunt”. Speaking on BBC Question Time, Nurse said there was no visible strategy behind the 100,000 target:
It was, as far as I’m concerned, a bit of a PR stunt which has gone a bit wrong,
Where was the strategy under that? I haven’t seen a strategy under it. It just sounded good.
On April 2, health secretary Matt Hancock pledged to reach the target by the end of the month. However only 52,000 tests were carried out on Tuesday 28 April.
“Testing was absolutely critical. It hasn’t been handled properly”
Geneticist Paul Nurse says the government’s coronavirus testing target number of 100,000 tests per day was a ‘bit of a PR stunt’. #bbcqtpic.twitter.com/K3Wd5r6xiR
Nurse added that by not mass testing healthcare workers regardless of whether they were showing symptoms, the government missed the opportunity to make hospitals safer:
If we had had local testing connected to local hospitals, we could have made hospitals a safe place…
(Instead) what we had is the potential for having care workers working on the wards, working with sick patients who were carrying the disease and weren’t being tested.
They had such restricted rules on who could be tested that they didn’t simply make the decision that we have to test everybody that is a frontline worker and, in particular, they wouldn’t test anybody who had no symptoms.
We were allowing potentially for frontline care workers to be on the wards potentially infecting people because we weren’t testing.
…Testing was absolutely critical, it hasn’t been handled properly.
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