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A report by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) revealed 185,000 tests have been left unprocessed with samples being sent to laboratories in Germany and Italy instead. The DHSC report, seen by The Sunday Times, says the capacity of the NHS Test and Trace system is at the highest it has ever been, and is working with a wide range public and private sector partners.
It is also claimed in the DHSC document, labelled “official: sensitive”, more than 30,000 test kits have been voided since last month – leaving Britons without any results at all.
Randox, a firm awarded a £133 million testing contract by the Government, reportedly disposed of 12,401 used swabs in a single day on September 2, and has voided more than 35,000 used test kits since the start of August.
In a statement, Randox said a small minority of samples may be voided for reasons such as damage or the expiry date has passed.
The firm said: “Those being tested are made aware that samples only remain valid for a limited period once collected, and those periods of validity are fully understood across the planning and logistic process.
“Randox have no responsibility for the logistics of sample delivery to laboratories.”
The test and trace system dubbed “world beating” by ministers has come under severe criticism for its testing capacity and availability at designated centres.
On Tuesday, the head of NHS Test and Trace issued an apology to people in England who have either been unable to secure a coronavirus test or been told to go to drive-through centres hundreds of miles from their homes.
Questions have also been raised over the actual number of COVID-19 tests being conducted on a daily basis.
On Thursday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said 1.2 million tests are being carried out per week – with a capacity for 300,000 per day.
The Department for Health no longer publishes daily testing figures, but the latest numbers show just 175,687 tests were reported on September 2.
At the time, the estimated total capacity reported by laboratories was more than double, at 369,937.
As the UK continues to see a spike cases with more than 3,000 daily infections, it has emerged no tests were available in Bolton between Thursday and Saturday – a city with one of the UK’s highest transmission rates with 180 weekly infections per 100,000 people.
Jon Ashworth, shadow health secretary, has condemned the latest testing fiasco.
He said: “People ill or with a sick child desperate for a test will be astonished that tests are piling up, left unprocessed, or even thrown away, because of errors in transportation and swabbing, while at the same time we are testing less than capacity.
“This really is ministerial incompetence at a whole new level.”
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In a statement the DHSC said: “NHS Test and Trace is working and our capacity is the highest it has ever been but we are seeing a significant demand for tests including from people who do not have symptoms and are not otherwise eligible.
“New booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for those who need them and we are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, and prioritising at-risk groups.
“Our laboratories are processing more than a million tests a week and we recently announced new facilities and technology to process results even faster.
“If you do not have symptoms and are not eligible to get a test you can continue to protect yourself if you wash your hands, wear a face covering and follow social distancing rules.”
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