COVID-19 testing “an utter shambles”

Last week my two young children, 1 and 3 years old, came down with a cough – one of the Coronavirus symptoms. As the advice states I tried to get them tested, but the nearest available test centre was over 2 hours drive away in Telford. I drove two ill children for hours to the test site, but when we finally arrived, I was told that the whole site was closed because they’d run out of tests. This was awful in of itself. But this is then what happened next.

I tweeted about that experience and honestly things went a bit crazy for a while.


That tweet was shared nearly 9,000 times and reached over 1.5 million people. Hugh Grant shared it. And then Piers Morgan shared it as well. And this was when I got the call from Good Morning Britain asking if I wanted to come onto the show the next morning.

It was very, very, wet in the part of mid-Wales I was staying.

But from here things went really wild. I was getting a dozen answer phone messages every hour from producers and more replies to my tweet than I could read. It had the potential to swallow my whole day when my kids were ill and I was meant to be on holiday. So I agreed with my wife that I would limit it all to a few hours after which I would then go back and be with my ill kids. In that time I spoke to the BBC, ITV News, Sky News, C5 News, the i paper, LBC, Heart FM and more in back to back interviews. In retrospect those few hours were all a bit of a blur.

To my surprise, GMB asked if I would then go back on to give an update the next morning. There were still no tests available (I was offered one near Liverpool first thing which we decided not to take) and the problem across the country only seemed to be getting worse.

What was I hoping to achieve? Well when I posted about my experience on social media and parents, carers and key workers up and down the country got in touch with me to share their experiences. None of them were good. I had an opportunity to speak up for people who were being let down by incompetence and a failing system.

I also mentioned the experience my Dad’s care home had. How they worked in a vacuum of information as they lost residents to coronavirus. I wanted to say – to anyone who would listen – that this incompetence costs lives. I wanted to be able to say to those in power how this was affecting ordinary people day in, day out.

Right now we could and should have a functioning testing and track and trace system in place. This government, this Prime Minister and his health secretary, need to take responsibility for this. Without responsibility being taken, public faith in the programme will continue to diminish. The main take-away from the existing evidence is that you NEED public confidence to ensure compliance.

Instead, people’s lived experience is that of frantically trying to book a test, only to find that there’s none – some have been told to drive 500 miles to the nearest test centre. Essential workers staying home, patients having operations cancelled and students and staff stopped from attending school – simply because they cannot get a test.

This just diminishes faith, not only in government, but in the importance of complying with the testing programme in general. I just can’t get my head round how the PM and his ministers do not see this as a failing they should be taking responsibility for. The Government’s ‘world leading’ testing system is in utter chaos and all they tell us is that they are ‘shooting for the moon’. As the British Medical Journal (BMJ) writes:

England’s performance in implementing a routine test, trace, and isolate programme doesn’t inspire confidence for upscaling to a moonshot. Missed targets, misleading “facts,” slow results, and false bravado are everyday occurrences.3 Lucrative contracts are awarded to private companies by opaque processes, while money for patients is squeezed, as Helen Salisbury points out.4 All this without accountability or apology for mistakes and missteps.

This is deadly serious. The number of weekly coronavirus cases in Europe topped 300,000 last week – higher than during the first peak in March. More lives are being put at risk.

That’s why I’m calling on Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson to take responsibility and urgently sort this mess out. And this is why I set up this Change.org petition. If government is willing to listen, the discontent at the metaphorical school gates is loud and easy to hear. Listening now is the first step to recovery and their only path to align themselves with the mood of the country. If they don’t do this they will loose the public and their track and trace system is destined for further failure.

This is a cost too high for all of us. If you can please do sign and share it.


Update: Here is Jacob Rees Mogg in the Commons today illustrating my concern about how out of touch this government seems to be:

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