All NHS Covid testing sites will start closing early from Monday

Nov 1, 2021 News

All NHS Covid testing sites will start closing early from Monday

All NHS Covid testing sites will start closing early from Monday as officials behind the £37 billion scheme claim there is little demand for tests.

NHS Test and Trace has ordered all regional and local test sites across the country to scale back their operating hours, and stop offering a service after 6pm.

Officials said they had taken the decision because “demand for tests reduces significantly” in the evenings. 

It comes after the scheme was lambasted as an “eyewatering” waste of taxpayers’ money which failed in its main objective to “help break chains of Covid-19 transmission and enable people to return towards a more normal way of life”.

The Public Accounts Committee last week also called for “urgent improvements” to boost uptake of PCR tests, among those who were least likely to engage with the service, such as men. Instead, health officials have opted to close all evening services. 

On Sunday night, MPs questioned the rationale of the decision, saying that while there was a case for reducing the role of mass testing, following the vaccine rollout, simply making it less convenient was harder to explain.

Greg Clark, the chairman of the Commons science and technology committee, said: “The direction of scaling it back is the right one – we’re spending £37 billion on this and we ought to be getting some of it back.” 

“But if you’re going to have testing at all, surely it needs to be available when people want to be tested, including after they have finished work.”

“Tests need to be available when people need them, not for the convenience of the service offering them,” the MP said. 

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest Covid infections are at rates not seen since January, with one in 50 people having the virus in the week ending Oct 22.

Prof John Edmunds, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said: “At some point we will have to scale back test and trace activities as they are enormously expensive. However, we currently have record high levels of prevalence, so now might not be the best time to start to limit the availability of tests.”

Until now, most testing sites have been open from 8am to 8pm daily, as part of efforts to encourage those with symptoms of Covid to come forward for PCR tests.

But the UK Health Security Agency, which is now responsible for NHS Test and Trace, has told all service management providers to scale back their hours, with no service after 6pm.

In a statement, the agency said: “All Service Management Providers have been informed of the decision to change future operating hours at Regional and Local test sites in England to 8am until 6pm from Nov 1 as demand for tests reduces significantly after this time.”

Officials said: “We have built flexibility and scale into our services so that we can adjust quickly to changing circumstances during the pandemic and we will continue to do this.”

The change comes despite warnings from the PAC last week that NHS Test and Trace has proved unable to respond to surges in demand, with long waits for test results at times when cases rose, despite spare lab capacity. 

MPs said billions had been squandered on a failed promise to “enable people to return towards a more normal way of life” which instead saw two national lockdowns.

The £37 billion budget – equal to almost a fifth of the entire health service budget – was used to hire more than 2,000 consultants, employed on average rates of more than £1,000 a day.

On Sunday, 38,009 Covid cases were reported in the UK, a fall of 13.5 per cent in a week. 

Latest figures for daily hospitalisations stand at 1,038, a rise of 5.8 per cent in seven days, with 74 deaths, an increase of 15.8 per cent.

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