Westminster Diary: Health Secretary needs to get a grip over Covid

Daisy Cooper. Picture: St Albans Cathedral

Daisy Cooper. Picture: St Albans Cathedral - Credit: Archant

St Albans MP Daisy Cooper offers her take on a week in Westminster...

This week, local residents wrote to me about their frustrations with what had once been promised as a “world-beating” test and trace system. In St Albans and across the country, thousands of people were unable to get tested for their coronavirus symptoms. 

Initially, some St Albans residents were asked to go to Aberdeen or Inverness to be tested – a round trip of more than a thousand miles. Days later, no tests were available at all. 

Key workers, parents and teachers wrote to me in their droves about the disruption it had caused. Children returning to school often pick up cold and flu symptoms in the first weeks back; this year that meant some key-worker parents were unable to go to work whilst they and their children self-isolated. In every case, this was bad for our frontline services, and in some cases those key-workers wouldn’t get paid.

Indeed, a national survey suggests four out of five schools have absent children and around half have absent staff who can’t get a test.

Local residents told me that they were frustrated for two reasons: one, because they couldn’t get a test, and two, because this was so predictable. We knew there was going to be surge in demand and an increase in symptomatic cases as people returned to offices and schools. Experts had been warning of this since June. 

Yet, when I asked the Health Secretary in the Commons whether he would publish the modelling his department must surely have conducted over the summer, he sidestepped the issue and talked about something else. The political appointee at the head of the test and trace programme tried to say it was all ‘unexpected’ and the Prime Minister and another Senior Minister said the public and their MPs were just ‘carping’ on about it.

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Coronavirus is a serious issue that needs a serious government response. Instead we have had a series of blustering promises, missed targets and poor excuses: from missed targets on testing capacity to the contact-tracing system that never materialized to the promise of test results returned in 24 hours. This is not a partisan issue: as one usually loyal Conservative MP said, the Health Secretary needs to “get a grip.”