COVID-19 test and trace system in Sussex – and whole UK - on its knees

Last Friday it was reported that the COVID-19 R rate had risen above 1 across the UK, with many people reporting being unable to access testing.

The current situation - with many people unable to access testing at all - continues to fall dangerously short of expectations. The Government's claim to have created a "world-beating" system looks increasingly ridiculous as people see what is happening on the ground.

In Sussex, a GP in Brighton and her hospital doctor partner had to isolate for eight days due to her inability to get a test locally for four days, despite checking availability several times a day.

“Once I finally went to get tested, it took a further four days to get the result. My whole family were isolating for this period; that’s a GP and hospital doctor who are unable to see patients whilst waiting for testing and results,” she said.

Alison Bennett, a Mid Sussex Lib Dem Councillor has spoken of her frustration in trying to get a test for her son, who woke up with a cough the day after returning to school for the new school year.

Deciding to keep the entire family at home until he could be tested for COVID-19, Alison tried to book a test on the government website. However, there was no way to reserve one either by post or drive through.

The site at Haywards Heath claimed to have 36 available appointments, but whenever they checked each day over the next week, no appointments were available. Two other sites suggested were - in Essex and Oldham. But they did not have appointments either.

Alison’s son did eventually get his test, and having tested negative, is now back at school. But across the country, whole year groups are being told to stay home from school until one or more of their peers or teachers with COVID-19 symptoms has been tested.

The Liberal Democrats argue that a robust system to test, trace and isolate every coronavirus case remains essential to keep people safe as we open up our economy and society more and more.

Liberal Democrat national health spokesperson Munira Wilson, said: “It’s clear the test and trace system in the UK is on its knees. It is unfathomable that medical professionals, on whom we all rely, are finding that they are unable to access vital tests.

“Recent reports of reduced testing capacity and the obvious flaws in our tracing system are utterly inexcusable. The government’s claim to have created a ‘world-beating’ system looks increasingly ridiculous as people see what is happening on the ground.”

In Sussex, concerns have also been raised that the number of people tested may have fallen below the percentage needed to calculate a realistic local R rate.

A West Sussex County Council report has outlined how, as the South East has the lowest incidence of the virus, it is a ‘low priority for pillar 2 testing’.

Council officers have warned that without testing of pillar 2 at full capacity they are unable to build up an accurate picture of the number of cases and may not be able to detect any concerning increase in cases at locality level.

They have raised the issue with government but have been told this will possibly take some time to resolve (four to six weeks).

While there is a ‘relatively low incidence of COVID-19 in West Sussex and no outbreaks’ they are continuing to monitor the situation carefully.

Munira concludes, “If we are to prevent a second wave we need rapid action to bring our test and trace system up to scratch, as well as absolute clarity in public health messaging. If the Government can't get these basics right, it will be difficult for people to have any faith in their promises for the future.”

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